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Head Note April 2011

Legal Aid Queensland coordinates flood and cyclone legal response

Ninety-nine per cent of the state has been disaster declared following the 2010-11 summer, after much of the state experienced torrential rains and a series of cyclones.

Many lives were lost, hundreds were left homeless and people across Queensland have been struggling with issues such as getting insurance claims paid, lost employment and rising debt.

To help people get their lives back on track, Flood and Cyclone Legal Help has been established through a collaboration between:

  • Department of Justice and Attorney-General
  • Legal Aid Queensland
  • Queensland Law Society
  • Bar Association of Queensland
  • Queensland Association of Independent Legal Services
  • Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service

Legal Aid Queensland is coordinating Queensland’s Flood and Cyclone Legal Help services and is working with community legal centres and industry organisations to ensure legal information and advice is available to affected communities.

Legal Aid Queensland CEO Anthony Reilly said the organisation was proud to be involved in the flood and cyclone relief efforts.

Mr Reilly said $700,000 had been provided to help flood and cyclone victims access free legal advice, including $200,000 from the Federal Government and $250,000 from the Insurance Council of Australia.

“In addition, Legal Aid Queensland has provided $250,000 to community legal centres in flood and cyclone affected areas to provide direct assistance on the ground,” he said.

“We have also held a series of community forums in flood affected areas to provide assistance to people unsure of their legal rights.

“We know that there are many people who are discovering that the damage to their homes and possessions is not covered by their insurance policy. Where a person disagrees with the decision from their insurer, they are able to access internal dispute resolution processes.

“We have established a website, www.floodlegalhelp.qld.gov.au, where people can access a range of resources about their legal rights following the floods and cyclones.

“This includes information about how to make an insurance claim, what to do if they dispute an insurer’s assessment and their rights as a tenant.”

Mr Reilly said he expected flood and cyclone legal help would continue for at least six months, while the majority of legal issues were sorted out.

“Through Legal Aid Queensland, the statewide network of community legal centres and individual lawyers taking on pro bono work, we will ensure all Queenslanders get the legal help and advice they need,” he said.


Hundreds flock to community forums

Hundreds of flood and cyclone affected Queenslanders have been attending community forums to find out what their legal rights are in the wake of the summer’s natural disasters.

People attending the forums have been able to access on-the-spot legal advice from Legal Aid Queensland, as well as information and advice from the Insurance Council of Australia and the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Legal Aid Queensland consumer protection advocate Catherine Uhr said many people were having trouble getting flood insurance claims paid and there was some confusion about whether people should make a claim.

“Many people are unaware that they can challenge decisions made by insurers and the vast majority of rejected claims are never disputed by policy holders,” Ms Uhr said.

“Even if your insurer tells you that not you’re eligible to make a claim, we encourage you to put in a claim anyway.

“If you feel that your claim has not been assessed correctly, there are a number of options open to people to help them with their claims.

“It’s important for people to know that they can challenge their insurer’s decision and even decisions about the payment amount can be challenged.”

As well as information about insurance claims, LAQ staff provided information about credit and debt, tenancy, fencing, damage to cars and what to do if your electricity, gas, water supply or telephone or internet service had been disrupted by the floods or cyclones.

Forums were held in Rocklea, Ipswich, Goodna, Karalee, Oxley, Yeronga and Indooroopilly. Further forums will be held in north Queensland shortly.


$250,000 boost for community legal centres

Legal Aid Queensland has provided $250,000 to community legal centres around the state to help ensure Queenslanders affected by the recent cyclones and floods have ready access to free legal information and advice.

Legal Aid Queensland CEO Anthony Reilly said community legal centres were providing vital legal advice to Queenslanders whose homes were damaged by Cyclone Yasi, Cyclone Anthony and the recent floods.

“Community legal centres are making an important contribution to Flood and Cyclone Legal Help across Queensland,” Mr Reilly said.

“This funding will enable the creation of a statewide network of lawyers to deliver free flood and cyclone legal information and advice to all Queenslanders who need it.”

The funding has been distributed to the following community legal centres:

  • Cairns Community Legal Centre – $50,000
  • Townsville Community Legal Centre – $50,000
  • The Advocacy and Support Centre (Toowoomba) – $50,000
  • Central Queensland Community Legal Centre – $20,000
  • South West Brisbane Community Legal Centre – $20,000
  • Queensland Association of Independent Legal Services – $60,000

Floods and cyclones impact legal services

Queensland’s summer of natural disasters has also had an impact on legal services.

“The scale of this disaster has meant that almost everyone in our organisation has been touched by these disasters in some way,” Legal Aid Queensland CEO Anthony Reilly said.

“This includes the homes of some of our staff members being inundated and closing our main office in Brisbane during the floods in Brisbane.

“Our offices in North Queensland were also closed during Cyclone Yasi and courts across the state were closed at various times during the flood and cyclone disasters.

“Private legal practitioners in our network of preferred suppliers were also affected. While the vast majority came through relatively unscathed from the floods and cyclones, some incurred significant damage.

“In the Toowoomba and Lockyer Valley regions, some of the offices and homes of our preferred suppliers were completely inundated by the floods. One firm managed to move their files to higher ground before the floods hit, and is now operating out of temporary office space. Other preferred suppliers have had to deal with major flood damage to their homes.

“Despite these challenges, our preferred suppliers are doing their best to operate and offer their legal services to clients. Legal Aid Queensland would like to thank and acknowledge these firms for their dedication and we hope they will be back to business as usual in the near future.”

 


New Attorney-General for Queensland

Paul Lucas was sworn in as the Deputy Premier, Attorney-General, Minister for Local Government and Special Minister of State on 21 February.

Mr Lucas previously served as Deputy Premier and Minister for Health between March 2009 and February 2011 and Minister for Infrastructure and Planning between September 2007 and March 2009. Prior to this, he was Minister for Transport and Main Roads between 2004 and 2007 and Minister for Innovation and Information Economy, with ministerial responsibility for Energy, between 2001 and 2004.

Mr Lucas was a solicitor before entering Parliament and has Bachelor degrees in Economics and in Law, and a Master of Business Administration. He was elected to the Queensland Parliament in October 1996 as the Member for Lytton, an electorate which covers several bayside suburbs in Brisbane’s east.


Intellectual disabilities and the justice system focus of hypothetical

Andy is a 27 year old male who has just been caught stealing a magazine from a newsagent; Andy has an intellectual disability – should he be convicted for his offence?

The Law Week hypothetical is an annual community legal education event coordinated by Legal Aid Queensland and held during National Law Week. This year the 2011 hypothetical will examine the challenges faced by people with intellectual disabilities in Queensland’s criminal justice system.

Radio and television personality Meshel Laurie (pictured) will return as MC for this event, steering a panel of experts through a scenario which will demonstrate the typical obstacles faced by people with intellectual disabilities when they go to court.

The panel of experts, drawn from the legal, justice, health, community services and disability advocacy sectors, will discuss issues such as what provisions are made for intellectual disabilities in our justice system, support services available, and what reforms are proposed for the future. Audience members will also be given the opportunity to ask questions and make comments.

The 2011 hypothetical promises to be another interesting and informative event attracting attendees from the legal and government sectors, as well school students and members of the public.

Event details:

Date: Tuesday, 17 May 2011
Time: 12:30 – 2:00pm
Location: Banco Court, Level 2, Law Courts Complex, 304 George Street, Brisbane
Cost: Free, but bookings are essential (seating is limited)
Audience: open to the public

If you’d like to attend the 2011 hypothetical please email events@legalaid.qld.gov.au and provide the name(s) of the attendee(s) and a contact phone number.


Legal Aid welcomes new Board Chair Rachel Hunter

Legal Aid Queensland is delighted to welcome Rachel Hunter as Chairperson of the Legal Aid Queensland Board.

Rachel joined the Board in December 2010 and brings a wealth of experience and expertise, having worked in the Queensland public sector for more than 30 years in a number of senior executive roles.

Prior to retiring from the Queensland public service in July 2010, Rachel was the Director-General of the Department of Justice and Attorney-General. Rachel has also served as Director-General of the Department of Education, Training and the Arts.

Rachel previously held the position of Director-General of the Department of Justice and Attorney-General from 2003 – 2006, where she was appointed to undertake a review of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. Rachel has also served as Queensland’s Public Service Commissioner.

Rachel has a strong interest in the role education plays in the development of individuals, the community, and the wider economy. She has extensive experience in the vocational, education and training sector, initially as a teacher and then in a variety of management roles including Director of the Southbank Institute of TAFE and concurrently, Chair of TAFE Queensland.

In addition to her role as Chair of the Legal Aid Queensland Board, Rachel is also Chair of QCOMP and the Contract Cleaning Portable Long Service Leave Authority. Rachel is Deputy Chair of the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, and a member of the Griffith University Council.

The Board and Legal Aid Queensland’s CEO Anthony Reilly look forward to working with Rachel to promote the ongoing development and enhancement of our legal service delivery.

Farewell to former Board Chair Marg O’Donnell

Legal Aid Queensland would also like to thank our out-going Board Chair Marg O’Donnell and acknowledge Marg’s important contributions to the success of Legal Aid Queensland.

Marg joined the Legal Aid Queensland Board in November 2004, and was appointed as Chair in September 2005. During her time with Legal Aid Queensland the organisation has undergone many important developments which include enhancements to business planning processes and delivery of legal services.

We thank Marg for her dedication to Legal Aid Queensland and wish her every success for the future.


A new direction for community legal education

For the first time, Legal Aid Queensland’s community legal education program will be coordinated through a strategy designed to ensure the organisation responds to priority client groups and legal problems.

Development of the community legal education strategy also coincides with LAQ’s focus on the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services which highlights the importance of prevention and early intervention legal services.

Intervening early when legal problems first arise can help reduce costs in the justice system. Many legal problems can be resolved more easily and at less cost if they are addressed in the early stages.

Community legal education helps people find out where they can get legal assistance when they need it. It helps to reduce barriers that stop vulnerable people from accessing legal help and it is a way of connecting with the more hard-to-reach communities who need legal help, like refugees and women experiencing domestic violence.

Legal Aid Queensland’s new Community Legal Education coordinator Linda Richards (pictured) has been consulting with both internal and external stakeholders to inform the development of the inaugural community legal education strategy.

“Community legal education is already a big part of what we do at LAQ,” Ms Richards said. “The consultation stage of the strategy development has enabled us to reflect better on what we do well and what we need to improve on.”

The strategy will focus on collaborating with other legal service providers, identifying gaps in community legal education and raising awareness of available legal assistance with hard-to-reach communities.

The strategy will be released later this year. For more information about the community legal education strategy, please contact coordinator Linda Richards at communitylegaled@legalaid.qld.gov.au

Greenlight for national community legal education project

Legal Aid Queensland has joined with other legal aid commissions across Australia to support a National Legal Aid (NLA) digital stories project to help new arrivals learn about Australian law.

The project will educate newly arrived refugees and migrants through simple stories and messages, about topics such as driving, tenancy, power bills, contracts, the workplace and family violence.

The DVD project is funded by National Legal Aid and its community legal education working group. The group is made up of community legal education representatives from legal aid commissions in each state and territory. The DVD will be based on the Victoria Legal Aid DVD Getting to know the law in my new country.

The legal aid commissions plan to build relationships with Adult Migrant English Program providers in their states and territories to encourage its use in English language programs and education sessions for migrants and refugees.

The national version of the DVD, Getting to know the law in my new country, will be available in July 2011. For more information about the project, contact LAQ community legal education coordinator Linda Richards at communitylegaled@legalaid.qld.gov.au


New program assists women with domestic violence order applications

The decision to apply for a domestic violence protection order can be daunting. The application process can be complex, confusing and overwhelming for women who are not familiar with our legal system.

In response to these challenges, Legal Aid Queensland will soon be launching a new, innovative court-based assistance program designed to help and support women through the protection order application process.

Legal Aid Queensland social worker Lorna Goldring said the Application Assistance Program would offer free and confidential face-to-face assistance for women applying for domestic violence protection orders.

“As part of the program women will also have access to domestic violence and safety planning advice, and can obtain referrals to other community support services,” Ms Goldring said.

The program is part of Legal Aid Queensland’s Women’s Domestic Violence Court Assistance service, and will be based at Brisbane Magistrates Court every Monday, Thursday and Friday from 9am to 1pm. Outside of these hours, women can access the program by appointment at Legal Aid Queensland’s head office in Herschel Street, North Quay.

“Through the Application Assistance Program, women can meet with court assistance workers who can guide them through the process of applying for domestic violence protection orders, amendments to existing orders, applications for legal aid and urgent temporary protection orders,” Ms Goldring said.

Legal Aid Queensland CEO Anthony Reilly said the new program was one way Legal Aid Queensland was striving to provide hands-on legal assistance to an often vulnerable group in our community.

“This program will hopefully make it easier for women to submit protection orders, thereby enhancing their personal safety,” Mr Reilly said.

This new initiative aligns with our focus on preventative and early intervention services, which is a key priority of the new National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services".

The program will be officially launched in May at the Brisbane Magistrates Court.


Reforms herald significant changes to criminal law

The Civil and Criminal Jurisdiction Reform and Modernisation Amendment Act 2010, which came into effect late last year has resulted in some of the most significant changes in the criminal jurisdiction in the past 20 years.

Before the legislation was passed, Legal Aid Queensland worked in partnership with the Queensland Law Society to provide practitioners across the state with educational and training opportunities about the reforms. Lawyers from Legal Aid Queensland delivered training sessions aimed at helping lawyers to understand and navigate the new legal landscape in the criminal courts.

In anticipation of the forthcoming amendments representatives from Legal Aid Queensland, including the Chief Executive Officer, were involved in the Chief Magistrate’s roundtable consultation group. This led to the endorsement and adoption by the Chief Magistrate, Director of Public Prosecution (Qld), Legal Aid Queensland and the Commissioner of Police of the Criminal Jurisdiction Reform Administrative Arrangement.

In summary, the reforms implement the following changes:

  • jurisdictional reforms – more matters must now be dealt with before the Magistrates Court
  • committal procedural changes – the process surrounding committal hearings have been significantly altered
  • other procedural reforms – eg ex-officio indictments or changes to procedures regarding bail.

Another important procedural reform is the introduction of case conferencing as part of the administrative arrangements.

One of Legal Aid Queensland’s main ways of delivering legal representation in the Magistrates Court is through duty lawyer services. In response to the legislative reforms being passed, the following material was reviewed:

  • the duty lawyer Case Management Standards and Duty Lawyer Guidelines
  • the adequacy and suitability of the duty lawyer form
  • the suitability, relevance and reliability of the current published Duty Lawyer Handbook

The review confirmed that the content in the above material required updating and reformatting and extensive consultation has been carried out both in-house and with preferred suppliers, magistrates and police prosecutors. Legal Aid Queensland is in the process of revising all material and it will be available as it is updated.


Preferred supplier reference group update

The LAQ preferred supplier reference group was formed in 2010 to foster communication and consultation between Legal Aid Queensland and our preferred suppliers on issues and developments affecting legal aid work.

The reference group met in March 2011 where preferred suppliers were given the opportunity to provide feedback on a new draft criminal law duty lawyer form developed by LAQ. The form seeks to capture all required information needed by duty lawyers during client meetings. Feedback from preferred suppliers will be incorporated into the form.

The group also discussed the upcoming review of the LAQ duty lawyer handbook. The content of the duty lawyer handbook will be updated over the next six months in line with the increased level of instruction taking required by the Moynihan Reforms. The handbook will also incorporate ease of use and web accessibility requirements.

LAQ has been reviewing its grants processes in a bid to streamline internal operations, simplify and achieve efficiencies in the application lodgement process, and realise cost savings. The group had a general discussion on this topic and noted the need for future LAQ corporate system upgrades to support these changes.

The group was also asked to provide feedback on any issues related to clients now being required to pay a document filing fee in the family court. The group noted that payment of this fee could be deferred for urgent matters.

The next meeting for the group will be held in June/July.


Legal Aid Queensland celebrates 30 years

Legal Aid Queensland celebrated its 30th anniversary with a special dinner at Rydges Hotel at South Bank on 29 October 2010.

Almost 250 people attended the dinner, including current and past staff, and members of the magistracy, judiciary and profession.

Former CEO, and now Magistrate, John Hodgins hosted the evening along with former board member Zoe Rathus, and they regaled the crowd with tales of the past.

The large turn-out of supporters is testament to the regard in which Legal Aid Queensland is held.

Check out some photos from the night here.


Legal Aid senior officer appointments

Legal Aid Queensland has recently made a number of senior officer appointments to its Executive Management Team.

New members of the team include:

  • John Allen – Public Defender. John has practised as a barrister for the past 20 years, predominantly in criminal law, and has also appeared as counsel in commissions of inquiry, including acting as lead counsel for the Queensland Nurses’ Union during the Bundaberg Hospital and Public Hospital Commissions of Inquiry. He is a member of the Sentencing Advisory Council.
  • Peter Delibaltas – Criminal Law Services director. Peter has practised as a lawyer with Legal Aid Queensland for almost 20 years. Prior to his appointment, he led the Serious Crime Team for over a decade and has been involved in the defence of some of Queensland’s most high profile criminal law matters. Peter has represented defendants in almost every major regional centre in Queensland. Furthermore, his commitment to the delivery of legal representation at all levels is displayed by continuing to undertake duty lawyer work.
  • Louise Martin – Grants director. Louise has worked in the Queensland public sector for the past 20 years at Legal Aid Queensland and other community services agencies, including Disability Services Queensland. Louise has been involved in a range of financial and administrative roles including grants system development and legal costing.
  • Ian Warren – Corporate Services director. Ian was previously the Executive Director Financial Services in the Department of Justice and Attorney-General, a position he held from November 2007. His career in the Queensland Public Service spans more than 24 years in a variety of corporate positions. He held the position of Executive Director Corporate Services in the former Department of Tourism, Fair Trading and Wine Development before his role in the Department of Justice and Attorney-General.

Farewell to Ross Beer

Legal Aid Queensland stalwart Ross Beer retired in March following a long break and almost 30 years of service with LAQ. Ross was the Grants director before acting as CEO until Anthony Reilly came on board in late 2009. He was also responsible for introducing major reforms to LAQ such as developing a comprehensive grants manual and preferred supplier arrangements. We wish Ross the very best for the future.


Deputy Public Defender appointed to Senior Counsel

Legal Aid Queensland Deputy Public Defender Carl Heaton has been appointed to Senior Counsel (SC), in acknowledgement of his outstanding achievements in the law.

Legal Aid Queensland CEO Anthony Reilly said Carl was a talented and committed barrister and his appointment to Senior Counsel recognised his experience, learning, seniority and standing as an advocate.

“As a barrister for more than 20 years, Carl has worked on many high-profile cases in Queensland and has always done exceptional work,” Mr Reilly said.

“He began his career with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in 1989, working in Brisbane and offices around the state.

“He began prosecuting criminal trials in 1992, mostly in the District Court, before being appointed as a Senior Crown Prosecutor in 1998.

“His practice developed in the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal, and he regularly appeared as counsel for the Attorney-General in appeals against sentence.

“He became a Principal Crown Prosecutor before coming to LAQ on a six-month secondment in 2005 as the Deputy Public Defender.

“In 2007, Carl was permanently appointed as the Deputy Public Defender and it is a role he continues to this day.

“We are very fortunate to be able to draw on his expertise and experience, and his appointment to Senior Counsel only further reinforces his value to our organisation.”

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