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Our performance

Overview of services

The Australian Government and the states and territories entered into the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services (NPA) in July 2010. The NPA governs the manner in which Commonwealth legal aid services funding to the states and territories is to be used, as well as the broader goals and objectives of legal assistance services.

The NPA emphasises the early resolution of legal problems through preventative legal services (ie information, referral and community legal education) and early intervention services (ie advice, minor assistance and advocacy).

The service delivery categories used in the NPA have been adopted throughout this annual report. The categories are:

  • preventative legal services—community legal education (CLE), information and referral
  • early intervention legal services—advice, minor assistance and advocacy
  • dispute resolution services
  • duty lawyer services
  • litigation.

Statistics in our annual report have been provided under the definitions and counting rules determined by the Australian Government, states and territories as part of the implementation of the NPA. See Table 2 for an overview of our performance.

Service Total
Preventative legal services1

1 606 760
Early intervention services2
Criminal
Family
Civil

16 983
20 530
14 736
Dispute resolution services
Family3
Civil

6370
72
Duty lawyer services
Criminal
Family

81 049
2000
Litigation services4
Applications received
Applications approved
Applications refused5

36 817
27 949
8868
  1. Preventative legal services includes community legal education, information and referral. In line with the NPA counting rules, the count of preventative legal services includes unique web page views of Legal Aid Queensland’s website legal information pages.
  2. Early intervention services include advice, minor assistance and advocacy. The category of ‘advocacy’ is a NPA term.
  3. Family dispute resolution services refer to lawyer assisted family law dispute resolution services. Service count represents the number of people attending Legal Aid Queensland conferences of 4954 plus 1416 certificates issued in line with s 60I of the Family Law Act.
  4. Litigation services represents grants of aid for representation.
  5. Some applications received may have been initially refused and subsequently approved on review.

Table 2. Overview of Legal Aid Queensland services

Progress toward National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services targets

The NPA provided national performance benchmarks and indicators to be met by 30 June 2014. In a collaborative project between the Australian Government, states and territories, the Allen Consulting Group independently reviewed the national legal assistance sector. A copy of the Allen Consulting Group review can be found at www.ag.gov.au. We reported on the assessment of Legal Aid Queensland’s performance in our 2013–14 annual report.

The NPA was extended for another 12 months until 30 June 2015 while the Australian Government developed the new NPA. The new NPA will begin in July 2015. We will report on our progress toward the new NPA targets in next year’s annual report.

Queensland Government service delivery statement measures

In addition to reporting on NPA service delivery categories, we also have state government service measures that are listed in Table 3.

SDS measure 2014–15
Annual target
2014–15
Actual
Percentage of administrative decisions referred to external review that are overturned 6% 6.2%
Average time (in minutes) spent with client to provide legal advice 30 28.9
Average time (in minutes) spent for crime duty lawyer service 30 29.8

Table 3. State government service standards

Objective 1: Support early resolution of legal problems and social inclusion

Objective 2: Provide quality and cost effective legal services statewide to our clients

Preventative legal services

Community legal education

CLE activities are an integral part of the services offered by Legal Aid Queensland.

Our CLE activities are coordinated through a strategy that targets priority client groups and legal problems and aims to:

  • improve community understanding of the law
  • reduce litigation and costs to the justice system
  • assist community members to understand their legal rights and responsibilities and how to access legal help if they need it
  • assist stakeholders to understand our services and how to access them.

Our CLE Strategy is delivered through:

  • web based legal information
  • written publications, including legal information factsheets and guides
  • legal information sessions for community members and community support workers
  • community development projects that focus on increasing awareness of the law and our services with vulnerable people within hard-to-reach communities
  • participation in community events.

The NPA’s focus on prevention, early intervention legal services and collaboration has been a key driver for the strategy and the coordination of our CLE work.

During the year we:

  • distributed editions of our e-newsletters Head Note and CLE Bulletin to stakeholders
  • participated in community events including Homeless Connect, Law Week, Finance Fairs and the Musgrave Park Family Fun Day as part of NAIDOC Week
  • partnered with the Queensland Council of Social Service and the Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House to deliver an information forum for community sector workers showcasing how support workers can use the new national Legal Health Check tool to diagnose their clients’ legal issues and support them to access legal help; the forum also provided information about how clients can access Legal Aid Queensland’s legal information and referral services
  • held four CLE Legal Assistance Forum meetings, fostering collaboration and communication within the sector on CLE projects and initiatives (see page 42 for more information)
  • delivered 44 CLE sessions to 3597 people in response to sector or community need; topics included Legal Aid Queensland’s services, domestic violence, family law, child protection, consumer issues, contracts, credit and debt, door-to-door sales, payday lending, insurance issues after natural disasters and discrimination law
  • evaluated the third round CLE Collaboration Fund projects to ensure the projects helped people understand their legal rights and responsibilities, identify if they had a legal problem and know how to access help if they need it; the seven round three projects produced 17 new resources, including a web-based interactive version of the Personal Injury Self Help Kit, two Legal Health Check online training videos for community workers, 10 CLE PowerPoint presentations, two training handouts and other resources, and delivered 126 CLE sessions to 3089 people, with more than 50 percent of these sessions being delivered in regional Queensland; these CLE resources and activities aimed to benefit disadvantaged young people, case managers with
    vulnerable clients, community workers for migrant communities, support workers for people with impaired capacity, self -represented litigants and community members
  • fourth round CLE Collaboration Fund projects, which received funding from LAQ in 2013–14, were progressed by recipients during the 2014–15 financial year. The project outcomes will be reviewed in 2015–16
  • initiated and administered the CLE Collaboration Fund’s fifth round to resource collaborative initiatives and partnerships to extend the reach of our community legal education work. The fund allows us to draw on community legal centres’ existing community relationships and professional networks to effectively engage with target audiences across Queensland. The six
    approved projects will deliver targeted CLE resources and initiatives to elderly people, people with intellectual disabilities, migrant communities, Indigenous prisoners and self-represented litigants.

Information and referral

Legal Aid Queensland provides comprehensive, statewide, free legal information and referral services to disadvantaged Queenslanders. Our free legal information and referral services can be accessed online via the Legal Aid Queensland website (www.legalaid.qld.gov.au), by phone through our call centre, and in person at one of our 14 offices throughout metropolitan, rural and regional Queensland. The organisation first established a statewide call centre in 1997 to provide telephone information services to the general public. The Legal Aid Queensland website complements this service, providing comprehensive legal information, as well as a statewide network of referral agencies. Clients can also access information in person by visiting one of our offices, or one of our community access points.

Providing legal help to Queenslanders affected by domestic and family violence
CLE Collaboration Fund project

The Refugee and Immigration Legal Service (RAILS) received a $12,000 grant in the CLE Collaboration Fund’s fourth round to deliver a CLE project targeted at families of emerging African communities from refugee backgrounds. The project concept was informed by the RAILS’ consultation with the Queensland African Communities Council, which noted family law problems were a significant issue for these communities. To help address these challenges, the RAILS delivered legal education workshops to the targeted communities, exploring Australian law and practices on domestic violence, child safety and parent-child conflict. The workshops sought to highlight what the law says and the legal consequences of these family problems. The workshops also highlighted preventative strategies to reduce the likelihood of these issues occurring, and how to access legal help or other support services.

It was envisaged these workshops would assist the communication of key family law concepts and learnings within Brisbane’s African communities.

Website

During the year 982,691 people accessed the Legal Aid Queensland website and viewed 2,105,416 web pages.

Call centre

Our client information services call centre answered 146,694 calls in 2014–15 and provided 95,679 legal information and referrals services to clients. The team also provided 603 legal information and referral services via email.

During the year, the call centre improved its services to clients by using SMS and email to confirm appointments and provide access to legal information.

We also gave prisoners in correctional centres priority access to our client information services call centre to reduce their waiting time. Prisoners are considered highly vulnerable clients as they have extremely limited access to legal services and support, and are at a high risk of social exclusion and financial disadvantage. Prisoners’ calls are restricted to six and 10 minutes, and time waiting in a queue counts towards their call limit.

Legal Aid Queensland is a community service provider for the SupportLink eReferral Management Service, assisting with early intervention for people who come into contact with other community agencies and organisations who require support for legal issues. In 2014–15, our client information services team handled 2200 referrals through SupportLink.

We continued to implement our Information and Referral Strategy, which aims to increase the number of information and referral services, improve links between Legal Aid Queensland and other services, and improve the accuracy and effectiveness of referral practices.

Flood and Cyclone Legal Help

In February 2015, Tropical Cyclone Marcia caused flood and storm damage to parts of Central Queensland and the Wide Bay Burnett region, particularly Shoalwater Bay, Byfield, Yeppoon, Rockhampton and Biloela.

Building on the experiences of the 2011 and 2013 floods, Legal Aid Queensland responded by helping to ensure people who were affected by this disaster had access to legal information and advice about their situation. We:

  • established our client information services call centre as the first point of contact for flood and cyclone legal help, with a dedicated phone number so those affected received priority service
  • distributed posters promoting our legal information and advice services to recovery centres in the affected areas
  • promoted our legal information and advice services via local media outlets
  • attended community meetings in flood and cyclone affected areas, including joint meetings with the Insurance Council of Australia and Financial Ombudsman Service.

Providing legal help to Queenslanders affected by domestic and family violence
Information and advice services

In 2014–15, Legal Aid Queensland provided legal information about domestic and family violence on an estimated 14,290 occasions, representing about 20 percent of all calls to our client information services call centre, at a cost of $0.97 million.

Legal information about domestic and family violence is also available on our website and last financial year there were 25,193 views of web pages with domestic and family violence content.

We also produce domestic and family violence legal publications including factsheets, kits and guides to help people understand their domestic and family violence legal problems and access legal protection. In 2014–15, 4413 people downloaded 4762 of these publications from our website, representing 18 percent of all Legal Aid Queensland publications downloaded. We also distributed 26,034 domestic and family violence publications in hard copy—20 percent of all publications distributed.

During the year, domestic violence was one of the legal issues in an estimated 45 percent of legal advices provided, representing 19,349 advices, at a cost of $2.2 million.

Early intervention

Advice and minor assistance

Financially disadvantaged Queenslanders can access our free legal advice and minor assistance services by telephone, including TTY, videoconference and face-to-face at Legal Aid Queensland offices and at designated outreach services. The legal advice service is primarily provided by our Brisbane-based First Advice Contact Team (FACT), specialist teams and regional offices. The FACT provides advice to clients at our Brisbane office and telephone advice to clients Australia wide and to overseas callers.

We provide a Prison Advice Service, which uses videoconferencing to provide legal advice services to people in Queensland’s prisons. This reduces travel time and provides cost savings. The FACT and some regional advice lawyers also maintain a face-to-face advice service at designated local prisons.

We also provide minor assistance services for people who might need help with preparing letters and other documents following on from initial legal advice.

During the year, we began providing a call centre lawyer service, where an advice lawyer helps our client information services call centre staff to identify and manage clients’ complex legal issues. The lawyer also provides advice to clients who are particularly vulnerable and where their matter is time sensitive.

We provide free legal advice in:

Criminal law

  • Criminal charges in the Magistrates, District and Supreme Courts
  • Youth justice
  • Traffic matters

Family law

  • Parenting issues (eg arrangements about children)
  • Relationship issues (eg divorce, property settlement)
  • Domestic and family violence
  • Child support and maintenance
  • Child protection
  • Family dispute resolution

Civil law

  • Anti-discrimination
  • Farm and rural debt issues
  • Social security appeals
  • Peace and good behaviour
  • Victim Assist
  • Motor vehicle property damage
  • Excluding young people from school and services
  • Consumer and debt disputes
  • Employment.

Social security advice services

We continued to provide a weekly advice service at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to assist clients considering appealing their social security matters from the Social Security Appeals Tribunal. The service provides advice to clients on their prospects of success and/or evidence and, if appropriate, helps them apply for legal aid.

Additionally, we continued a weekly advice service in the Social Security Appeals Tribunal in collaboration with the tribunal and the Basic Rights Centre. The clinic focuses on providing advice and assistance to clients about disability support pensions, debts, compensation preclusion cases, social security benefits cases where there is a dispute about whether a person is in a couple relationship, other complex cases, and matters involving vulnerable clients.

Refugee and Immigration Legal Service advice clinic

We worked with the Brisbane-based RAILS to provide a fortnightly legal advice clinic for clients who have family law, domestic violence and/or child protection issues. The lawyers in the clinic, if appropriate, help clients to apply for legal aid.

Victim Assist Advice Clinic

We provide specialist legal advice and minor assistance to victims of crime about applications for financial assistance to Victim Assist Queensland. We provide a Victim Assist telephone advice clinic once a week.

Legal Advice Referal Pathways Program

During 2014–15, we rolled out our Legal Advice Referral Pathways Program to Woodridge and Townsville. The program helps vulnerable clients, particular women who have experienced domestic violence, to receive priority legal advice, and now operates in nine locations around the state—Brisbane, Bundaberg, Gold Coast, Ipswich, Mackay, Toowoomba, Richlands, Woodridge and Townsville. The program has had 1329 referrals since its inception in 2008.

Providing legal help to Queenslanders affected by domestic and family violence
RAILS advice clinic case study

Our family law legal advice clinic in collaboration with RAILS provides an opportunity for refugee and immigrant clients to receive a holistic approach to their unmet legal needs. During the year, we provided legal advice to a client who was referred by a domestic violence service, resulting in her and her children being protected. The client was in Australia on a partner visa and she had children with her Australian ex-partner.

She had experienced serious domestic violence from her ex-partner—he had threatened to kill her and himself; he had threatened to damage her belongings; he had inspected her clothing and at one stage cut them up; he sent emails to her family overseas saying derogatory things about her; he sent pornography to her; he threatened to burn her clothing; he accused her of having affairs and threatened to harm her in her sleep; and he had strangled her.

We referred the client to our domestic violence prevention workers to help her complete a domestic violence order application. She was also provided with family law advice from one of our lawyers who helped the client to understand the Australian legal system and how a domestic violence order could assist. The client also completed a legal aid application so our lawyers could represent her in court.

We then gave the client legal advice on family law issues such as parenting and property settlement, and helped her to respond to a letter from her ex-partner about parenting issues.

The client was keen to sort out her visa status as she was on a visa, which meant she could not work and was not entitled to Centrelink benefits. Her separation raised significant migration issues and the RAILS lawyer present in the advice was able to give comprehensive migration advice on this area of law.

The client was successful in obtaining a grant of legal aid to be represented in both the domestic violence order application and to apply for parenting orders.

This is an excellent example of how clients can receive a ‘warm referral’ from the RAILS legal advice clinic and how the clinic can address the holistic needs of some very vulnerable clients.

 

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Figure 7. Early intervention services provided by Legal Aid Queensland 2014–15

Duty lawyer services

Criminal law duty lawyer service

Our Criminal Law Duty Lawyer Service operates in Queensland’s Magistrates and Childrens Courts and plays a crucial role in our youth and adult justice systems. The service offers free initial legal advice and representation to people charged with criminal and serious traffic offences, who are on bail or in custody in Queensland. Duty lawyers can enter guilty pleas, make bail applications and request remands for clients.

Duty lawyer services are provided by our in-house lawyers and authorised private lawyers who deliver services under roster or tender arrangements.

We are committed to case conferencing matters with the prosecution to ensure our clients have their legal issues resolved as soon as possible. This can have significant sentencing benefits for clients and can also result in savings to the criminal justice system by avoiding unnecessary court time. It also means witnesses and victims do not have to go through the stress of attending court.

Family law duty lawyer service

Our Family Law Duty Lawyer Service provides assistance to self-represented litigants in the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court throughout Queensland for family law matters. We provide services in Brisbane, Townsville, Cairns, Mackay, Bundaberg, Rockhampton, Maroochydore, Toowoomba, Southport, Hervey Bay and Ipswich.

As part of this duty lawyer service, we provide information, legal advice, referrals and representation. We also help people complete their own forms and documents, negotiate and settle consent orders, and seek adjournments. We help people complete applications for legal aid or access our review process if they have previously been unsuccessful with applications for aid.

Child protection duty lawyer service

In October 2014, we began piloting a Child Protection Duty Lawyer Service in Cairns and Townsville Childrens Courts to provide free legal help to parents before they appear in court for their child protection matter.

The service is based on a court-based advice model where lawyers provide free legal information and advice, help people fill out forms and documents needed for that day in court and also talk to the clients about their eligibility for ongoing legal representation from Legal Aid.

Our child protection duty lawyers helped 65 people with their child protection matters during 2014–15.

Having lawyers available to provide advice to people about their child protection issues, helps them to be properly informed before going into court and to feel more confident negotiating the legal process and more accepting of the outcomes of the process.

We plan to expand these services to four new sites in south east Queensland in 2015–16.

Providing legal help to Queenslanders affected by domestic and family violence
Domestic violence duty lawyer service

In September 2014, we began operating our Domestic Violence Duty Lawyer Service at Southport Magistrates Court. The service helps ensure Gold Coast residents affected by domestic violence, as well as those who are responding to an application for a domestic violence order, have access to free legal help before their court appearance.

The duty lawyers provide free legal information and advice, help clients to fill out forms and documents needed for that day in court, discuss the clients’ eligibility for ongoing support from Legal Aid Queensland in the domestic violence matter and other related legal problems, and provide referrals to appropriate support services.

In limited circumstances, the duty lawyer may also appear in court on the client’s behalf for their domestic violence matter.

Since September 2014, our domestic violence duty lawyers helped 508 people on the day of their court appearance.

Providing legal help and referrals early in the court process helps both applicants and respondents to better understand their options and the legal implications of these options. It also helps people to connect with support services early to help keep them and their children safe.

We will be expanding our Domestic Violence Duty Lawyer Service to a total of 14 locations in 2015–16. We also provide domestic violence services at the Brisbane, Beenleigh and Richlands Magistrates Courts.

Lawyer assisted dispute resolution services

Resolving family law problems through dispute resolution processes Legal Aid Queensland is a national leader in providing lawyer-assisted family law dispute resolution. We provide a statewide lawyer-assisted family dispute resolution program. We aim to resolve family law disputes before matters go to court, or before a final hearing is needed if court proceedings have started.

We have dispute resolution conference organisers in Brisbane and regional centres around the state to help families. Family law dispute resolution conferences are held at our Brisbane and regional offices. During 2014–15, we continued to provide our support service to help people implement their conference agreements. Unfortunately, this service will not be provided in 2015–16 due to reduced federal funding. An important part of our dispute resolution program is our property arbitration program.

During the year, we continued our Family Dispute Early Resolution pilot program, which aims to expand the organisation’s family law conferencing services by 75 conferences each month. The pilot program focuses on making conferences available at the early stages of a dispute about substantial parenting issues for vulnerable clients, where there is a genuine need for orders to provide some certainty about ongoing parenting arrangements. During the year, 180 conferences took place under the pilot program. Unfortunately, we had to end this pilot program on 30 June 2015 due to reduced federal government funding. However the program will be retained for victims of domestic violence who have fled the former matrimonial home, and grandparents who have children in their care and need court orders in place to give them the parental authority to care for the children.

Providing legal help to Queenslanders affected by domestic and family violence
Family dispute resolution services

Legal Aid Queensland’s family dispute resolution service assists people to resolve their family arrangements without having to go to court. In 2014–15, 1256 family dispute resolution conferences involved domestic and family violence, representing 54 percent of all conferences. More than 1930 individual grants of aid were issued for representation at conferences involving domestic and family violence, at a cost of $3.53 million.

Providing services to the farming community

Our Farm and Rural Legal Service provides free legal help to Queensland farmers and primary producers experiencing financial hardship related to their business—including those with severe debt problems or those in dispute with their lenders.

We provide legal advice and represent clients in mediations with their banks and finance providers. The service has been busy assisting drought affected farmers and primary producers during 2014–15.

In June 2015, we expanded the Farm and Rural Legal Service by contracting three private law firms to provide the service across central and northern Queensland.

Litigation services

Our in-house practice, together with hundreds of private law firms (preferred suppliers) and barristers, provide litigation services to legally-aided clients in serious crime, general crime, juvenile justice, family law, child protection, domestic violence and other civil law matters. We use grants of aid to purchase these services from private lawyers.

Almost 80 percent of our legal representation is provided by private solicitors, and barristers who are briefed by them, with the remainder provided by our in-house practice.

Funding private lawyers to do legal aid work makes up more than 50 percent of our total expenditure. Processing applications for grants of aid Our Grants division is responsible for processing applications for legal assistance and managing matters following approval. We assessed 36,817 new applications for legal aid in 2014–15 (see Figure 8 for more information). Grants decisions are made by staff in our Brisbane and regional offices.

Demand for our services is high so we use strict criteria when granting aid for legal representation. In determining whether to approve a grant of aid, grants officers assess requests according to our guidelines, which are set by the Legal Aid Queensland Board, and apply the means and merit tests. This process looks at the financial means of the person applying and the case’s merit. If an application is refused, internal and external review processes are available to applicants.

 

ar2014-15-figure-8.gif

Figure 8. Applications for grants of aid received and approved 2014–15

In-house legal practices

Criminal law services

Magistrates Court

We provide legal representation in the Magistrates Court for pleas of guilty, summary trials, committals and other Magistrates Court matters.

Our lawyers have been proactively involved in the case conferencing process for summary and committal matters over the past year.

We made significant contributions to criminal justice system projects during the year to help increase efficiencies in the Magistrates Court jurisdiction. As an active participant in the Integrated Criminal Justice Videoconferencing Working Group, we sought to increase videoconferencing use to create efficiencies in the justice system.

We also began to participate in a videoconferencing court trial in the Brisbane Magistrates Court. The videoconferencing court exclusively hears matters where an in-custody defendant’s appearance is to be heard by videoconference at the Brisbane Magistrates Court. Cases are grouped by correctional centre to allow the most streamlined prisoner appearances in court and the most efficient use of videoconferencing facilities.

Serious and general crime

Our lawyers specialise in the defence of complex and general criminal law cases, in Commonwealth and state jurisdictions. Legal assistance is also provided in Dangerous Prisoners (Sexual Offenders) Act 2003 (DPSOA) matters.

Representation is often delivered in serious criminal matters such as murder, major fraud and complicated drug prosecutions. The defence of these matters is challenging and demanding, requiring extensive research, investigation and preparation.

In DPSOA matters, we act for people responding to dangerous prisoner applications brought by the Attorney-General, at periodic reviews of continuing detention orders, and in contravention proceedings for breaches of supervision orders.

Appeals

Legal Aid Queensland represents people on appeal in the District Court appellate jurisdiction, Queensland Court of Appeal and the High Court of Australia. Our lawyers collaboratively work with stakeholders in the appellate jurisdictions to provide representation. As an example, our Appeals team helped to coordinate and deliver representation in a number of appeals before the Court of Appeal in Cairns during May 2015.

Assisting mental health clients

Our Mental Health Unit provides advice and representation for people charged with criminal offences who have been referred to the Mental Health Court. The team is also committed to helping Queenslanders affected by mental illness or significant impairment and strives to provide them with a voice in the justice system. The team works closely with our in-house counsel to conduct matters, representing the vast majority of non-privately represented clients appearing in the Mental Health Court.

Assisting young people in the criminal justice system

Our criminal lawyers represent young people primarily in casework matters and duty lawyer services throughout Queensland. We also provide legal advice services at regular sessions to young people in detention.

Our Youth Legal Aid team provides specialist legal assistance to children and young people in the youth justice system, particularly in south east Queensland. The team is a significant stakeholder in the youth justice sector and advocates strongly on behalf of vulnerable children.

Family law services

Social science work

Our social workers and psychologist play an integral role in delivering our legal services to vulnerable clients. They support people through legal processes, chair family dispute resolution conferences, complete social assessment and family reports, and provide counselling services. We provide social work services from our Brisbane and Townsville offices.

During the year, our social workers and psychologist completed forensic assessment reports and psychological reports for independent children’s lawyers and separate representatives involved in family law and child protection matters, and provided testimony before the courts. They assisted our lawyers by providing clients with information and referrals to appropriate
external organisations for help with non-legal matters such as mental health problems, substance dependencies and accommodation difficulties.

Helping people with child support issues

We provide information, referral, legal advice and representation services to clients in some child support areas. We can explain how the child support formula works, how the Family Tax Benefit is affected and how to prove paternity.

Providing legal help to Queenslanders affected by domestic and family violence
Helping domestic violence victims

We represent parties in domestic violence matters through grants of aid to private law firms and through our in-house legal practice. We also continued to provide duty lawyer or legal advice services in a number of Magistrates Courts across the greater Brisbane area, and began providing a duty lawyer service for all parties in the Southport Magistrates Court.

During the year, our Domestic Violence Prevention Service provided information sessions to women dealing with domestic violence matters in the Brisbane Magistrates Court and an Application Assistance Program. The Application Assistance Program helps women applying for domestic violence protection orders in the Brisbane Magistrates Court, including:

  • helping women prepare and lodge applications for domestic violence protection orders
  • providing support for women in court
  • helping women with risk assessments and safety planning.

Our specialist multi-disciplined Violence Prevention and Women’s Advocacy team helps clients experiencing domestic violence in the Brisbane Magistrates Court. The team comprises specialist lawyers and social workers who provide services to women, and practical advice about service delivery in domestic violence cases. Their mission is to increase women’s access to our services and improve Legal Aid Queensland’s responsiveness to meet women’s legal needs. They work to develop and maintain effective working relationships with service providers and identify, review and respond to issues impacting on women’s access to justice.

Our Violence Prevention and Women’s Advocacy team also worked with the Beenleigh Court Support Program to provide advice and representation to people in the Logan area who were applying for domestic violence protection orders in the Beenleigh Magistrates Court. Also during the year, our specialist lawyers worked with the Ipswich Women’s Centre Against Domestic Violence to provide advice to people in the Richlands and western Brisbane suburbs with domestic violence and family law matters in the Richlands Magistrates Court.

Children and young people

Assisting children, their families and the courts to assess the best interests of children involved in legal proceedings is a key focus of the work conducted by our family and child protection lawyers. We continued to provide legal services for children and young people involved in family law and child protection matters in 2014–15.

Courts exercising family law and child protection jurisdiction make a significant number of independent children’s lawyer and separate representative appointments, where judicial officers order a child’s interests be separately represented. Independent children’s lawyers and separate representatives provide best interests representation for children, playing a unique and difficult
role within the family law and child protection systems. They gather and assess independent evidence and provide measured guidance and recommendations to the courts about the best interests of children and young people. The cases they work on are complex and demanding.

Many of these matters are dealt with by specialist in-house lawyers. Our in-house independent children’s lawyers and separate representatives have significant experience and knowledge about parenting and child protection cases.

In-house lawyers perform considerable work in the Family Court of Australia’s Magellan list—a case management list devoted to cases where there are allegations of serious physical abuse or sexual abuse of children.

Independent children’s lawyer and separate representative panel meetings are facilitated to help ensure knowledge is shared and issues are discussed between the private practitioners on the panel and in-house specialist lawyers.

This ensures a consistent, quality approach to the representation of children and young people.

Child protection

We are the largest legal service provider in child protection matters in Queensland, providing information and advice, representation of parents, direct representation of young people, separate representation of children and young people in the Childrens Court of Queensland, and limited representation in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal in respect of reviewable decisions.

Civil justice services

Anti-discrimination services

We provide specialist legal advice, assistance and representation in matters involving anti-discrimination, sexual harassment and vilification.

Civil Law Legal Aid Scheme

The Civil Law Legal Aid Scheme provides a service to members of the community who, without the scheme’s assistance, would not have the financial means to pursue a civil law claim.

Funded by the Public Trustee of Queensland and administered by Legal Aid Queensland, the scheme provides funds for outlays required to prepare civil law claims for settlement negotiations and/or court proceedings.

The scheme will consider providing funding for outlays where:

  • there is no grant of aid available from Legal Aid Queensland
  • the action can be dealt with in the Queensland legal jurisdiction
  • an approved firm is willing to act on a speculative basis for their professional fees.

Applications are subject to Legal Aid Queensland’s means test and a merit assessment and assistance will only be approved if we consider the claim has reasonable prospects of success.

Consumer protection

Our Consumer Protection Unit provides specialist advice and representation in consumer law matters. The unit provides advice to clients as well as lawyers and financial counsellors throughout Queensland.

During 2014–15, we started providing a face-to-face consumer advice clinic in our Woodridge office. Some vulnerable clients are better suited to face-to-face advice and we can often provide a more effective service and achieve a better outcome through face-to-face advice services.

The unit assisted people with:

  • mortgage stress
  • housing repossession
  • debt
  • loans (including small amount loans and car loans)
  • telecommunications and unsolicited consumer agreements (including door-to-door selling).

Social security

In addition to our social security advice services in the Social Security Appeals Tribunal and Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), we also provide legal representation for social security appeals in the AAT.

Legal help for war veterans and their dependants

We receive federal funding under the War Veterans’ Legal Aid Scheme to provide assistance to veterans and their dependants to appeal Veterans Review Board decisions about:

  • war-caused disability pension entitlements or assessment claims under Part 2 of the Veterans Entitlement Act 1986
  • claims under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 about warlike or non-warlike service regarding:
    • accepting liability
    • rehabilitation programs
    • permanent impairment
    • incapacity payments for former members
    • special rate disability pensions
    • dependant benefits.

Counsel

In 2014–15, our in-house team of barristers, led by Public Defender John Allen QC, again showed their commitment to providing quality specialist legal advocacy services efficiently and effectively.

In addition to the considerable work performed in the criminal jurisdiction of the Supreme, District and Magistrates Courts, counsel also appeared in all Mental Health Court sittings and in the Supreme Court’s civil jurisdiction for respondents in applications brought under the dangerous prisoners legislation. Counsel also provided advice and representation in family and civil law matters.

Our Townsville and Brisbane-based barristers also appeared in regional courts, including those in remote areas such as Mount Isa, the Gulf of Carpentaria and Cape York Peninsula. Senior barristers provided opinions about the prospects of matters succeeding on appeal so decisions could be made about granting aid. They also appeared in appeals against sentences and/or convictions in the Queensland Court of Appeal, including matters in which the Attorney-General had appealed against the sentence, and in the High Court of Australia.

The appointment of the Public Defender as Queen’s Counsel in 2014 reflects the high regard in which the courts and profession hold our in-house barristers.

The experience gained by our barristers due to the volume, complexity and diversity of the work ensures legally-aided clients have access to high quality representation and advice.

Ensuring quality legal services

Legal Aid Queensland aims to provide quality legal services to financially disadvantaged people and we continue to improve the quality of our work and the outcomes for our clients.

In-house lawyers

To achieve this, we continued to use our Quality Legal Services Framework for Legal Aid Queensland employed lawyers. The document lists the measures we have in place to ensure we maintain a high standard of service delivery to our clients.

This includes:

  • recruiting and selecting lawyers through open, merit based selection processes
  • providing an induction program for new lawyers to ensure they are familiar with standards of conduct, professional requirements and administrative processes
  • developing and delivering a continuing professional development (CPD) program for lawyers
  • compliance with legal profession standards
  • compliance with legal service standards, case management standards and practice management standards
  • providing legal professional supervision to lawyers
  • regularly reviewing files and auditing lawyers
  • responding to client feedback and complaints
  • conducting a client satisfaction survey every two years to guide improvements to service delivery.

Preferred supplier law firms

Our preferred supplier law firms are required under their agreement with Legal Aid Queensland to meet our policies, guidelines, file management, practice and case management standards. Preferred supplier files are audited to assess compliance.

In 2014–15, we monitored 139 law firms.

Best practice guidelines for working with children and young people

Legal Aid Queensland developed best practice guidelines to ensure our staff and service providers are working effectively with our young clients and providing them with appropriate and responsive services.

The guidelines, which were developed through extensive consultation with the legal profession, members of the judiciary and youth justice agencies, apply to all Legal Aid Queensland staff and preferred suppliers across all areas of law including criminal, civil
and family law.

The guidelines took effect on 1 May 2015 and have been integrated into our case management standards, which set the minimum standards for the conduct of files for preferred suppliers and in-house legal staff.

Providing legal help to Queenslanders affected by domestic and family violence
Best practice guidelines for working with people who have experienced domestic violence

In addition to our strong commitment to providing legal assistance services to people experiencing domestic and family violence, we have worked to ensure those services are delivered in the most responsive way to these vulnerable clients. Legal Aid Queensland believes the objectives and principles of the legislation need to be reflected in our daily activities—in the way our client service staff interact with clients at our front counters, in the way our grants officers assess applications for aid, and in the way our lawyers (both in-house and private lawyers who do legal aid work) represent clients.

For these reasons, we developed the Best practice guidelines framework: Working with clients who have been affected by domestic violence. The framework provides background and context for the guidelines and outlines the seven overarching ‘best practice principles’. The framework is underpinned by a suite of best practice guidelines to help staff and lawyers performing legal aid work to deliver a consistent, high quality service to people affected by domestic violence.

The guidelines have been developed for:

  • administrative and client service staff
  • family dispute resolution practitioners
  • family and social assessment report writers
  • separate representatives and independent children’s lawyers
  • lawyers (domestic violence)
  • lawyers (sexual violence).

Originally developed in 2000, the guidelines have been integrated into Legal Aid Queensland’s case management standards, which set standards for the conduct of files by in-house lawyers and lawyers in private practice who do legal aid work.

We have developed risk assessment resources and a risk assessment tool that can be used by lawyers where they have concern for a client’s safety. It provides a list of risk factors to be considered, which should inform the future conduct of a case, including planning around safety for the client and their children.

In June 2015, we developed new guidelines to ensure our lawyers and preferred supplier law firms are delivering best practice services to respondents in domestic violence proceedings.

The Best practice guidelines for lawyers working with respondents in domestic violence proceedings are a practical
tool that lawyers can use on a daily basis covering the difficulties and challenges in providing legal advice and representation to a respondent in domestic violence proceedings, prioritising safety, dealing with cultural issues, and giving information about legal options and other services. The guidelines will be integrated into Legal Aid Queensland’s case management standards, which set the standards for the conduct of files for preferred suppliers and in-house legal staff. They complement Legal Aid Queensland’s Best practice guidelines for working with people who have experienced domestic violence and Best practice guidelines for working with people who have experienced sexual violence.

Contributing to domestic and family violence best practice guidelines for the legal sector

One of the recommendations of the Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence in Queensland’s Not Now, Not Ever report is that the Queensland Law Society develops best practice guidelines for lawyers working with people who have experienced domestic and family violence.

The report noted these guidelines should be developed in line with Legal Aid Queensland’s model guidelines, and in consultation with Legal Aid Queensland, the Women’s Legal Service, the Queensland Association of Independent Legal Services and other relevant stakeholders.

We are now contributing to the development of these guidelines, which will help ensure lawyers are equipped with the appropriate knowledge and tools to provide appropriate legal help to people experiencing domestic or family violence.

Access by disadvantaged groups

Assisting culturally diverse clients

During the year, we continued our commitment to clients from culturally diverse backgrounds. We promoted our services within these communities to increase people’s awareness of Legal Aid Queensland and improve their access to justice by:

  • delivering targeted CLE sessions to culturally diverse communities
  • distributing translated legal information to culturally diverse communities
  • supporting free interpreter services being provided to clients in line with the state government’s Language Services Policy
  • providing a fortnightly family law advice clinic at the RAILS in Brisbane
  • funding a joint project with the RAILS to explore options to provide CLE in migrant communities about domestic and family violence.

Improving services for Indigenous clients

We are committed to providing services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

During the year, we:

  • provided funding to support the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (ATSILS) to provide duty lawyer services in Cape York Peninsula and Gulf of Carpentaria communities
  • funded disbursements such as counsel for ATSILS clients in higher court criminal law and other matters
  • promoted our Indigenous Information Hotline, which gives priority to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander callers so they can access legal information and advice for the cost of a local call from a landline anywhere in Queensland
  • provided outreach clinics where lawyers travel to surrounding regions or link in by videoconference in Cooktown, Dirranbandi, Goondiwindi, Tara and Tully
  • hosted a workshop by Dr Diana Eades titled “Telling and retelling your story: implications for working with Indigenous clients” for solicitors and barristers to examine cultural and communication issues for Aboriginal people in legal settings
  • coordinated Regional Legal Assistance Forums (RLAFs), which include ATSILS representatives
  • held an information stall at the Musgrave Park Family Fun Day event in Brisbane during NAIDOC Week
  • maintained best practice guidelines for in-house and private lawyers performing legal aid work to ensure legal services are provided to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients in a culturally appropriate way
  • published legal information brochures, factsheets, wallet cards and posters that specifically target Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Assisting people with a disability

We recognise many people with disabilities experience legal problems and require services that are responsive to their individual needs and circumstances. Last year we continued work on our project to redevelop our website www.legalaid.qld.gov.au. One of the project’s major objectives is to make the website more accessible to users, including people with disabilities, as required
by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines endorsed by the Australian Government.

Web accessibility focuses on providing equal access and opportunity for people with disabilities. For example, websites should be compatible with screen readers used by people with vision impairment and with devices used by people who cannot use a mouse because of a physical impairment. It also benefits people with literacy issues, older users and mobile device users.

When people with a disability make contact with our call centre or in person at one of our offices, we have processes in place for identifying their vulnerabilities and giving them priority and supported access to our services.

For the hearing and speech impaired we have a Telephone Typewriter Service (TTY) that operates out of our Brisbane office. This service allows people with a hearing or speech impairment to make telephone calls. With a TTY, the conversation is typed rather than spoken allowing direct communication between the hearing or speech impaired person and the person on the other end of the call. Where practical, we may use TTY to provide legal advice or information services by phone to hearing or speech impaired people. Hearing impaired clients can also access our services using the Deaf Society National Relay Service or arrangements can be made for onsite sign interpreters to attend one of our offices. The National Relay Service is a phone solution for people who are deaf or who have a hearing or speech impairment. Clients who contact us by email, letter or through third parties are provided with the national contact details for the service and are asked to place a call through them. The service then conference calls with us and the
client, and the costs are met by Legal Aid Queensland. We also use videoconferencing to reach people in locations where onsite sign interpreting services are not available when we require the services. This involves the sign interpreter at one of our offices signing to the hearing impaired client at another office via videoconference.

Our Criminal Law Duty Lawyer Handbook includes a section for duty lawyers about representing clients with mental health issues, an intellectual disability or cognitive impairment. The handbook is available on our website in PDF, EPUB and mobile formats.

 

Providing legal help to Queenslanders affected by domestic and family violence
Violence against women strategy

Our Violence Against Women Strategy is an integrated, collaborative and consistent response to clients who have been affected by domestic violence. Under the strategy, we have developed and implemented practical tools for our practitioners including:

  • Best practice guidelines for working with people who have experienced domestic violence
  • Best practice guidelines for working with people who have experienced sexual violence
  • Best practice guidelines for lawyers working with respondents in domestic violence proceedings
  • a domestic violence risk assessment tool
  • an internal policy for responding to staff experiencing domestic violence.

We have legal information resources to help clients affected by family and domestic violence, which can be found on our website.

Legal services for regional, rural and remote Queenslanders

Legal Aid Queensland supports legal services to rural, regional and remote areas of Queensland. We have 13 regional offices providing services to regional Queensland, and a statewide network of more than 320 regional preferred supplier private law firms.

We provide direct legal services such as grants of aid, legal advices and duty lawyer services to people in rural, regional and remote Queensland (see Figures 9 and 10 for more information).

Other Legal Aid Queensland services available to regional people include:

  • family law duty lawyer services in Townsville, Cairns, Mackay, Bundaberg, Rockhampton, Maroochydore, Toowoomba, Southport, Hervey Bay and Ipswich
  • child protection duty lawyer services in Cairns and Townsville
  • domestic violence duty lawyer services in Southport
  • criminal law duty lawyer services in regional towns across Queensland
  • in-house counsel appearing in regional court circuits including Mount Isa, the Gulf of Carpentaria, Thursday Island, Cape York Peninsula, Mackay, Hervey Bay, Gympie, Bundaberg, Kingaroy and Maryborough
  • legal outreach clinics from our offices at Caboolture, Cairns and Toowoomba where lawyers travel to surrounding regions or link in by videoconference to provide legal advice services
  • a statewide Indigenous Information Hotline, which gives priority to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander callers so they can access legal information and advice for the cost of a local call from a landline anywhere in Queensland
  • operating our Legal Advice Referral Pathways program in Bundaberg, Gold Coast, Ipswich, Mackay, Toowoomba and Townsville
  • access for preferred supplier law firms to our CPD program and library resources
  • thirty-six community access points across Queensland providing community support services, information about our services, a sample of our publications and assistance to access free telephone legal advice
  • supporting the Western Queensland Justice Network to provide free legal services to people living in regional Queensland
  • coordinating the work of 12 RLAFs across the state, which help to identify emerging legal issues in their communities.

 

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Figure 9. Legal advices provided by location 2014–15

 

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Figure 10. Applications for grants of aid received by location 2014–15

Key disadvantaged group Criminal law % Family law % Civil law % Total %
Legal advice
Women
Indigenous
Rural and remote
Culturally diverse


25.42
6.36
4.77
10.10

66.10
4.98
6.08
11.10

50.23
5.05
5.23
14.24

48.09
5.48
5.42
11.48
Applications received
Women
Indigenous
Rural and remote
Culturally diverse

21.73
14.48
9.34
5.30

61.76
8.46
7.18
8.17

63.12
9.42
6.23
11.38

38.54
12.09
8.32
6.88
Applications approved
Women
Indigenous
Rural and remote
Culturally diverse

20.82
15.80
9.59
5.13

60.43
9.16
6.70
7.26

69.64
10.56
5.61
10.09

35.58
13.63
8.47
6.17

Table 4. Access by key disadvantaged groups 2014–15

Measuring client satisfaction

In 2015, we commissioned market research consultants Colmar Brunton to conduct our biennial client survey. This involved a telephone survey of 500 previous clients. Clients were asked about their overall satisfaction with Legal Aid Queensland, and more detailed questions about the specific services they received.

Similar to previous years, the survey revealed positive outcomes for Legal Aid Queensland in overall service satisfaction and performance across our key service areas. Overall satisfaction was rated 7.7 out of 10, compared with 7.5 out of 10 in 2013.

Clients who were provided with legal representation in court rated that service at 8 out of 10, while our in-house representation service was rated at 8.4 out of 10.

Clients who were assisted by our legal advice service scored a mean of 7.8 out of 10, and the family dispute resolution service also scored 7.8 out of 10.

Satisfaction scores are influenced significantly by the outcome of a client’s application for a grant of aid for representation in court. Clients who did not receive a grant of aid were the least satisfied, with a mean score of 5 out of 10, whereas clients who received a grant of aid scored the application service at 8.5 out of 10.

The research provided useful information to help us prioritise future service improvement initiatives.

Objective 3: Progress our vision through collaboration and policy leadership

Queensland Legal Assistance Forum

The Queensland Legal Assistance Forum (QLAF) was established to help member organisations address legal assistance issues by facilitating cooperative working relationships with other legal service providers in rural and regional areas. Legal Aid Queensland provides secretariat support to the forum. The QLAF continued to meet quarterly throughout 2014–15.

Regional Legal Assistance Forums

There are 12 RLAFs around the state. During 2014–15, we continued to coordinate the work of those forums.

The RLAFs aim to encourage collaborative and cooperative working relationships between legal aid service providers in each region. By working together, service providers have been able to identify emerging legal needs in their communities, help determine which legal service is best placed to meet legal needs, and ultimately reduce service delivery gaps.

Two of the RLAF networks successfully applied for funding from the CLE Collaboration Fund’s fourth round to continue to provide CLE in partnership with other local legal service agencies. The Bundaberg RLAF delivered CLE sessions in the Wide Bay Burnett region on youth justice, consumer issues, domestic violence and family law. The South West Queensland forum continued with its program of delivering key legal information to young people on cyberbullying and using social media safely with sessions presented at schools in Chinchilla, Warwick, Tara, Miles and Cunnamulla. We worked with The Advocacy & Support Centre to produce a Cyberbullying, sexting and Facebook booklet to accompany the sessions, which is available on our website.

The RLAFs’ work aligns with the NPA, with its focus on increased collaboration and cooperation between legal assistance providers. It also allows legal assistance services to target people who experience, or are at risk of experiencing, social exclusion.

Community Legal Education Legal Assistance Forum

The CLE Legal Assistance Forum is a specialist forum of the QLAF. The CLE Legal Assistance Forum was established in 2011 to assist Legal Aid Queensland and the community legal sector to work collaboratively on CLE projects and initiatives, disseminate CLE information and resources, and foster good practice CLE delivery.

This network includes representatives from the community legal sector and government legal service providers delivering community legal education services.

The CLE Legal Assistance Forum’s activities are reported to the QLAF each quarter.

Supporting community legal centres

We act as state program manager for CLCs, monitoring their financial reporting and strategic planning and ensuring service delivery targets are met. During 2014–15, we administered funding on behalf of the state and federal governments to 37 CLCs throughout Queensland (see Table 5 for more information).

This year, Queensland centres received $16,459,726 in Community Legal Service Program funding. This included $281,000 provided by the federal government in one-off funding to four centres.

The state government provided an extra $92,500 through its Project Funding account to three centres for the following projects:

  • Caxton Legal Centre – Queensland Law Handbook Project – $35,000
  • QAILS – Training & Development Project – $20,000
  • QPILCH – Legal Health Check Project (coordinator & evaluator) – $37,500

The Queensland Association of Independent Legal Services (QAILS) also received $40,000 from the state government’s Sundry Expenses account to engage a regional network coordinator to ensure compliance with the National Accreditation Project.

Community legal centre Funding
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Legal Service NQ Inc $ 251,138
Banana Shire Community Legal Centre $ 119,953
Basic Rights Queensland $ 743,549
Bayside Community Legal Service Inc $ 118,146
Cairns Community Legal Centre Inc $ 684,493
Care Goondiwindi Association Inc $ 118,723
Carers Queensland Inc $ 237,303
Caxton Legal Centre Inc $1,279,547
Centacare $ 151,729
Central Queensland Community Legal Centre Inc $ 397,496
Court Network Inc $ 400,301
DVConnect Ltd $ 123,202
Gladstone Regional Community Legal Service $ 119,953
Gold Coast Community Legal Centre and Advice Bureau Inc $ 635,870
Mackay Regional Community Legal Centre Inc $ 294,652
Moreton Bay Regional Community Legal Service Inc $ 118,146
North Queensland Women’s Legal Service Inc $ 805,411
Nundah Community Legal Service $ 118,723
Pine Rivers Community Legal Service $ 463,986
Prisoners’ Legal Service Inc $ 455,087
Queensland Advocacy Inc $ 436,773
Queensland Aged and Disability Advocacy Inc $ 123,202
Queensland Association of Independent Legal Services Inc $ 212,545
Queensland Indigenous Family Violence Legal Service $ 215,339
Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House Inc $1,145,200
Refugee and Immigration Legal Service Inc $ 648,356
Roma Community Legal Service Inc $ 310,708
South West Brisbane Community Legal Centre Inc $ 716,384
Suncoast Community Legal Service Inc $ 380,149
Taylor Street Community Legal Service $ 392,817
Tenants Queensland $ 280,234
The Advocacy and Support Centre Inc $1,132,792
Townsville Community Legal Service Inc $ 532,663
Western Queensland Justice Network $ 267,416
Women’s Legal Service Inc $1,165,232
Youth Advocacy Centre Inc $ 314,828
YFS Legal $ 547,680
Total $16,459,726

Table 5. Funding for CLCs from federal and state governments (including LPITAF) 2014–15

Policy and law reform activities

This year we continued to participate in government policy and legislation development processes drawing on our extensive legal practice expertise to inform our policy contributions.

We provided submissions on the:

  • Mental Health Act 2000 review
  • Equality, Capacity and Disability in Commonwealth Law discussion paper
  • Financial Ombudsman Service Terms of Reference
  • Rural Financial Counselling Service review
  • High cost of home and strata insurance in North Queensland
  • Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence in Queensland
  • Inquiry into the adequacy of existing financial protections for Queensland’s seniors
  • Right to Information Act 2009 and Chapter 3 of the Information Privacy Act 2009 review.

We also worked with the Department of Justice and Attorney-General and the Department of Communities and other agencies in implementing the Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations.

Our public submissions on law reform and legal policy issues can be read at www.legalaid.qld.gov.au

Providing legal help to Queenslanders affected by domestic and family violence
Our submission to the Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence in Queensland

In December 2014, we made a submission to the Queensland Government’s Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence in Queensland. The full submission can be read at www.legalaid.qld.gov.au. In the submission, we discussed the leading role Legal Aid Queensland plays in providing legal services to financially disadvantaged people, including people affected by domestic and family violence.

We outlined our services for people experiencing domestic and family violence, including:

  • legal information services and publications available from our client information services call centre, 14 offices and from 36 community access points across Queensland
  • CLE sessions for community workers and members of the public
  • legal advice services provided statewide by telephone or face-to-face at our offices
  • the Women’s Domestic Violence Assistance Service operating in the Brisbane Magistrates Court
  • the domestic violence duty lawyer services at the Brisbane, Beenleigh, Richlands and Southport Magistrates Courts
  • access to our specialist family lawyers
  • grants of legal aid for representation (subject to means and merits tests)
  • access to our specialist Violence Prevention and Women’s Advocacy Team
  • our Legal Advice Referral Pathways Program.

We also highlighted domestic violence related resources we have developed for lawyers and preferred suppliers:

  • Best practice guidelines for working with people who have experienced domestic violence
  • Domestic Violence Key Judgments Database for in-house lawyers and preferred supplier law firms.

Our proposal for a statewide domestic violence duty lawyer service also formed part of our submission. We believe that a statewide domestic violence duty lawyer service would make an important contribution to keeping families safe from domestic violence.

The Special Taskforce delivered its report in February 2015. One of the taskforce’s recommendations was to establish a statewide duty lawyer service for domestic and family violence matters in Magistrates Courts for applicants and respondents. The taskforce also recommended the Queensland Law Society develop best practice guidelines for lawyers working with people who have experienced domestic and family violence in line with Legal Aid Queensland’s model guidelines, and in consultation with Legal Aid Queensland, the Women’s Legal Service, the QAILS and other relevant stakeholders. Work has started on developing the guidelines.

Working with government and the courts

We supported government policy development and the efficient management of the justice system by collaborating with our colleagues in government and the courts. This involved participating in the:

  • Integrated Criminal Justice Videoconferencing Working Group
  • Magistrates Court of Queensland’s Brisbane Criminal Law Stakeholder Group
  • Supreme Court of Queensland’s Criminal Listings and Trials Meeting Group
  • Brisbane Domestic Violence Court Stakeholder Group
  • Brisbane Child Protection Court Stakeholder Group
  • Federal Circuit Court Stakeholder Group
  • Child Protection Reforms Senior Officers Group
  • Language Services Reference Group led by the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services.

Collaborating with the legal profession

Industry reference group

The industry reference group provides a regular forum for consultation with the legal profession and for discussing and managing stakeholder concerns. The group comprises nominated representatives from the Queensland Law Society and Bar Association of Queensland, and is chaired by Legal Aid Queensland’s CEO.

The group met three times during the year. During these meetings members were consulted on and provided feedback about:

  • fees paid to private lawyers and barristers who do legal aid work
  • establishing panels of private barristers to do legal aid work
  • realigning family law grants of aid.

Preferred supplier survey

During the year, we survey our preferred supplier law firms about how we communicate with them. One hundred and six firms responded to the survey:

  • Most firms found our website and online resources for preferred supplier firms useful.
  • Most firms were satisfied with our employees’ ability to respond to queries quickly and explain funding decisions in the context of organisational policies and guidelines.

Improving criminal, family and civil law grants of aid

In response to feedback from stakeholders, we increased fees for appearing in criminal law matters by six percent for committals in the Magistrates Court and by 12 percent in the District Court/Childrens Court of Queensland.

In June 2014, we released a consultation paper setting out proposals to better align existing family law grants of aid with court processes. We reviewed feedback received from stakeholders and developed a revised family law grants response which we will implement in 2015–16.

Emerging barrister briefing program

During the year, we continued our collaboration with the Bar Association of Queensland by partnering in a further round of the emerging barrister briefing program. This initiative selects junior barristers to be briefed by our criminal lawyers to undertake summary pleas, summary trials and s 222 District Court appeal appearances. The scheme has provided junior barristers
with the opportunity to appear for legally-aided clients and has included participants from regional locations.

Briefing counsel policy and committee

During the year, we reviewed and updated our In-house Lawyers Briefing Counsel Policy, which ensures probity and accountability in decisions by our in-house lawyers to brief counsel. The policy sets out general briefing guidelines and provides specific procedures for briefing counsel in expensive or extraordinary cases. The general briefing guidelines include requirements to:

  • consider briefing in-house counsel
  • consider the Law Council of Australia’s Equitable Briefing Policy for Female Barristers and Advocates
  • brief regional barristers wherever a barrister of sufficient experience and expertise is available
  • brief private barristers in a way that develops a wide and diverse pool of barristers who can do legal aid work
  • ensure a reasonable distribution of work to barristers who have appropriate experience and expertise
  • be objective, independent, apolitical and impartial.

We also established a Briefing Monitoring Committee, chaired by the CEO, to monitor in-house lawyers’ briefing practices and ensure the In-house Lawyers Briefing Counsel Policy’s goals are supported.

Providing staff and service providers with quality information resources

During the year, we continued to ensure staff and preferred suppliers had access to the legal knowledge they needed to do their jobs effectively. We:

  • further refined the design and functionality of our intranet’s ‘Library and research’ area to improve staff access to legal and related information resources, including modernising the interfaces of the specialist legal databases we provide
  • maintained and developed our collections of anti-discrimination decisions, comparable sentences, criminal judgments, dangerous prisoner decisions, domestic violence hearings, family law property decisions, people smuggling and social security appeals decisions, and several popular legal current awareness tools, including Crime Online and Family Law Notes
  • trained staff to effectively use the legal information resources.

We also developed a current awareness service that will ensure staff are alerted to legislative changes of particular relevance to services they provide.

Key in-house legal information resources are freely available to preferred supplier law firms who do legal aid work, CLCs and the ATSILS. These resources help our partners to better serve our clients and are a powerful incentive for private practitioners and firms to become or remain preferred suppliers.

Objective 4: Build on our business capability and sustainability

Our people

Continuing professional development

We continued to provide our in-house CPD program during 2014–15. Most sessions are open to all staff, as well as law firms that provide legal aid services, CLCs and the ATSILS, with audio conference facilities available to regional offices. Our program aims to ensure our lawyers are up to date with the latest legislative changes and have the opportunity to develop their professional skills and legal knowledge. The program allows legal staff to earn CPD points, which are required to renew practicing certificates each year.

We also provided staff with face-to-face and online training opportunities to familiarise them with our policies and procedures and to develop their skills and knowledge.

Training included:

  • Civil, family, and separate representative intensives
  • Complaints investigation
  • Computer systems including Employee Self Service, Visualfiles, Windows 7, Microsoft Office and Excel
  • Dispute Resolution Services conference organisers conference
  • Family law litigation support conference
  • Family law arbitration course
  • Grants operations training
  • Leadership and transitioning to management
  • Working with professional interpreters
  • Induction training for all new staff.

Attracting and retaining staff

We want our staff to be able to find an appropriate work-life balance. During the year, we continued to offer and promote flexible working options, including working part time, job sharing, telecommuting and purchasing supplementary leave. We also continued to provide remote computer access to many staff.

We have implemented strategies to help our staff effectively manage the possible impact of their work on their mental health and emotional wellbeing. We are particularly aware our lawyers and support staff are routinely involved in work that is confronting and stressful, which puts them at risk of suffering vicarious trauma. We responded to these risks by arranging workshops on managing the psychological impacts of practising law and recognising and responding to wellbeing and safety risks. We also provided staff with information about support networks and self-help strategies, and access to confidential counselling services (see Figure 11 for staff absenteeism and turnover rates).

Workplace composition (full-time equivalents)

At 30 June 2015, Legal Aid Queensland had 425.79 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees working in 14 offices throughout the state (see Figures 12 and 13 for more information).

 

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Figure 11. Staff absenteeism and turnover

 

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Figure 12. Actual staff by employment type (by FTE) 2014–15

 

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Figure 13. Staff age profile 2014–15

Equal employment opportunity

We are committed to equal employment opportunity (EEO) principles and have successfully implemented these principles across the organisation. Our current EEO statistics highlight our commitment to equitable recruitment, selection and promotion policies (see Figure 14 for more information).

 

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Figure 14. Equal employment opportunity target group membership 2014–15

Measuring staff satisfaction

In May 2014, we participated in the Working for Queensland Employee Opinion Survey. Fifty-one percent of employees (237 employees) responded to the survey. The survey results indicated those employees who participated in the survey felt engaged while at work, understood their roles and collaborated well with stakeholders. The feedback we received was invaluable in identifying areas for improvement. We continue to implement changes in response to the survey feedback.

In April 2015, we again participated in the employee survey. This year’s survey response rate was 47 percent, with 218 employees responding. The results of the 2015 survey showed improvement in the three key workplace outcomes of agency engagement, job engagement and satisfaction, and intention to remain.

Code of Conduct

Legal Aid Queensland is covered by a whole-of-government Code of Conduct. The single Code of Conduct reflects ethical values contained in the Public Sector Ethics Act 1994 and covers the following principles:

  • integrity and impartiality
  • promoting the public good
  • commitment to the system of government
  • accountability and transparency.

The code guides us in managing issues like:

  • conflict of interest
  • personal conduct
  • commitment to service delivery
  • information sharing and relationship building across agencies
  • adherence to organisational values and policies
  • continuous performance improvement
  • appropriate use of official information and resources.

Our Workplace Behaviours Policy also provides standards relating to appropriate workplace behaviour, and an employee’s Personal Work and Development Plans outline obligations relating to the Code of Conduct. We manage breaches of the Code of Conduct in line with the Public Service Commission’s Discipline Guide.

We provide staff with Code of Conduct and workplace behaviours training when they start work and then annually.

Our systems and processe

Modernising grants management systems

During the year, we continued to make improvements to our business processes and information systems for procuring, managing and delivering grants of legal aid. These include:

  • improving communication with clients about:
    • information needed to process legal aid applications and reasons for decisions
    • requests to review legal aid application decisions
  • redesigning and implementing new grants responses for extraordinary criminal law matters
  • redesigning the family law grants response following feedback from stakeholders
  • streamlining the conferencing referral process through system automation
  • documenting key grants processes.

These improvements have reduced administrative requirements, increased efficiency and improved the effectiveness of our grants management systems.

Recordkeeping

Under the Public Records Act 2002, we are required to make and keep full and accurate records of our activities, and to respect and follow the recordkeeping policies, standards and guidelines issued by the State Archivist. We use the Hewlett Packard Records Manager 8 (RM8) electronic document and records management system and have integrated RM8 with our core business
systems to facilitate a more streamlined approach to capturing some business records. About 77 percent of our corporate records and 15 percent of our core business records are digital.

In 2014–15, we continued recordkeeping reforms to improve and support good corporate governance by:

  • updating our records management, archiving and disposal policies in response to maturing recordkeeping knowledge and skills
  • assessing our recordkeeping practices against Information Standard 40: Recordkeeping and completed the Recordkeeping Survey of Queensland Public Authorities conducted by Queensland State Archives in April 2015.

We communicated recordkeeping roles and responsibilities to all staff by delivering recordkeeping system training to support the transition to electronic records.

We continued the tranistion from paper to digital records by:

  • establishing ongoing business hours support for electronic recordkeeping
  • digitising the invoice payment approval process and developing systems to support the transition to electronic legal advice records.

We also ensured the reliability and security of our recordkeeping systems by:

  • continuing to develop audit mechanisms to ensure compliance and quality of data and records
  • upgrading our electronic document and records management system from TRIM 7 to RM8 to ensure we are using supported and maintained systems.

We continued to implement appropriate disposal activities by:

  • continuing to apply our Retention and Disposal Schedule, which was last reviewed in 2012
  • planning for the transition of disposal classes under the revised General Retention and Disposal Schedule for Administrative Records.

Reducing environmental impact

During 2014–15, we continued to improve energy and conservation efficiencies to help reduce our environmental impact.

We continued to achieve significant savings by:

  • installing a new lighting system as part of the refurbishment of our Brisbane office at 44 Herschel Street
  • using multifunctional devices for printing, copying, faxing and scanning to reduce our energy use and carbon footprint
  • maintaining a system that allows us to use rain water collected in our two 16,000 litre water tanks to flush our toilets and irrigate our gardens
  • reusing water (condensation) we capture from our air-conditioning systems to flush our toilets
  • closely measuring, monitoring and publicising our energy and water use
  • implementing an electronic electricity usage and reporting tool, which is monitored daily
  • monitoring our water usage daily to check for potential water leaks in our systems
  • reducing our use of air-conditioning systems during the cooler months
  • using a high efficiency water chiller for our air-conditioning system
  • modifying our air-conditioning water pumps so they shut down when the chiller cycles off
  • increasing our use of sensor lighting
  • introducing timers to reduce use of water boilers, hot water systems and water pumps
  • venting our Brisbane office building early in the morning in hotter months to expel hot air built up overnight
  • educating staff about ways they can help save water and energy
  • managing our cleaning contract and service hours to reduce the cleaners’ use of after-hours lighting
  • participating in a whole-of-government energy supply contract to increase purchasing power and improve supply conditions, while also reducing costs
  • participating in events like Earth Hour
  • constantly looking for opportunities to further reduce our water and energy use.

We also worked to reduce our environmental footprint in other ways including:

  • using videoconferencing facilities to reduce transport-related carbon emissions, energy use and associated costs
  • choosing more energy efficient cars when replacing vehicles in our fleet.

We continued to be involved with other waste management practices, including recycling paper, cardboard, cans, glass and printer toner cartridges.

 

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Figure 15. Brisbane office water consumption

 

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Figure 16. Brisbane office energy consumption

Accommodation

During 2014–15, we finished refurbishing two floors of our Brisbane office. We also renovated the main staircase, third and fourth floor bathrooms, ground floor foyer/directory board and the audio-visual equipment in our auditorium.

During the year, we renovated our Woodridge office to allow a more open plan work environment and amenities areas. Additional conferencing facilities and office spaces also provide for current and future demands.

In December 2014, we relocated our Bundaberg office from level 2 to level 3 in the WIN Tower. The open plan workspace provides greater access to natural light, while providing extra space for staff, and extra interview and conferencing facilities.

We also expanded our Rockhampton office, resulting in extra office space and conference and interview facilities.

Open data

The Open Data Initiative is part of the Queensland Public Sector Renewal Program and the Queensland Government’s vision to create the best public service in the nation, truly focused on its end customer, Queenslanders.

Legal Aid Queensland’s commitment to open data is confirmed by our published Open Data Strategy on the Department of the Premier and Cabinet’s Open Data website www.publications.qld.gov.au/dataset/open-data-strategy-legal-aid-queensland

We have provided the following datasets in addition to our Annual Report 2014–15:

  • consultancies
  • overseas travel
  • Queensland Language Services Policy
  • government bodies.

To access more information, government data and the Annual Report 2014–15 Open Data, visit www.data.qld.gov.au

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