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START OF 2014-15 annual report
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On 20 February 2015, High Court Justice Patrick Keane articulated the importance of legal aid in his speech reflecting on the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta to the Queensland Law Society’s Legal Profession Dinner. Justice Keane stated:
“Legal aid ensures that access to the courts is available to ensure equality before the law. And that is the core business of the profession as well as government.”
For more than three decades, Legal Aid Queensland has played a pivotal role in ensuring equality before the law by pursuing its core business of providing cost effective legal services to financially disadvantaged Queenslanders.
As our chairman, Brian Stewart, has mentioned, this year’s report highlights the services Legal Aid Queensland provides to those who are affected by domestic and family violence. We as an organisation support the recommendations of the Queensland Government’s Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence in Queensland Not Now, Not Ever report and agree that as a community, we all have a responsibility to stop the behaviour and attitudes that perpetuate the cycle of domestic violence. The report highlights the services we provide for those affected by domestic and family violence and the work we are doing to ensure those who need our services are able to access them when they need them.
We are guided by our Strategic Plan 2013–17 and its four strategic objectives, along with Queensland’s public service values—customers first, ideas into action, be courageous, unleash potential and empower people—which inform how we pursue our strategic objectives. Supporting the early resolution of legal problems and social inclusion is the plan’s first objective. We made good progress on this front through pilots of new duty lawyer services in the areas of domestic violence and child protection, and an expansion of our legal advice referral pathways program and Farm and Rural Legal Service. Our child protection and domestic violence duty lawyer services will expand in 2015–16.
A potentially concerning development over the past year has been significant growth in our criminal law duty lawyer services that required us to expand our staffing levels at Southport. We will need to monitor this situation closely in the year ahead.
Our second objective is providing quality legal services statewide to our clients. An important measure of quality is what our clients think about our services. On this front the 2015 client satisfaction survey showed an improved level of client satisfaction compared with our last survey in 2013. During the year, our Grants division completed a complex project to improve the quality of our decision letters about grants of aid, which we hope will see client satisfaction continue to improve in the years ahead.
Our focus on quality was also reflected in expanding our quality standards to include best practice guidelines for working with children and young people, and representing respondents in domestic violence proceedings. We also continued to provide professional development opportunities, such as separate representative training held in February 2015.
A key challenge in providing quality legal services is paying fair and reasonable fees to private lawyers who undertake legal aid work on our behalf. As the chairman has set out in his report, we increased standard fees for criminal law matters and also conducted a grant of aid fee review in consultation with the Industry Reference Group.
To pursue our third objective, we strive to work collaboratively with stakeholders and aim to be leaders in justice system policy. We greatly appreciated the Industry Reference Group’s contribution to the above fee review, as well as the support of the Queensland Law Society, Bar Association of Queensland, the Family Law Practitioners Association and judicial officers in assessing options for managing reduced Commonwealth funding. During the year, we also contributed to government policy processes including those progressing child protection, domestic violence and mental health law reform.
Our fourth objective is building on our business capability and sustainability. From a financial perspective, we achieved this goal by posting our sixth successive surplus budget. We improved our systems by upgrading to Microsoft 2007 and Office 2010, and updating our electronic document and records management system to RM8. Our continuing commitment to our most important asset, our people, was reflected in our improved outcomes in the 2015 whole-of-government employee opinion survey. A part of our commitment to staff is providing them with good accommodation, which saw us deliver improvements to our offices in Brisbane, Woodridge, Rockhampton and Bundaberg.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the board for their astute leadership of Legal Aid Queensland and recognise the diverse skills and insights that they bring to this task. As our chair has already done, I would also like to express my appreciation to state Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Yvette D’Ath for her commitment to supporting legal aid services, which led to a $1.1 million increase in funding in the 2015–16 state budget to allow us to roll out our domestic violence duty lawyer service across the state.
The longer I remain at Legal Aid Queensland the more I recognise the story of legal aid in Queensland is not just the story of an organisation, but is also one of a community of employees, private lawyers, board members, judicial officers, government officers, other legal service providers and many more, whose collective efforts help to keep the show on the road. My heartfelt appreciation is extended to all those who took part in this year’s journey. I look forward to working with you to pursue equality before the law in the year ahead.
Chief executive officer
Last updated 10 November 2015