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START OF 2015-16 annual report
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The Australian Government and the states and territories entered into a new National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services (NPA) in July 2015. 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 community legal education (CLE) and discrete assistance (ie information, referral, advice and task assistance).
The service delivery categories used in the NPA have been adopted throughout this annual report. The categories are:
The new NPA agreement has different categories than the previous agreement. It also has different counting rules applied.
Table 3. Overview of Legal Aid Queensland services
The NPA includes a national performance framework for legal assistance for Commonwealth funded services. The sole performance benchmark relating to Legal Aid commissions is for 95 percent or more of representation services to be delivered to people experiencing financial disadvantage.
In 2015-16, we achieved 99.7 percent compliance compared to a 95 percent target.
Table 4. State government service standards
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:
Our CLE Strategy is delivered through:
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:
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 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.
We launched our new website in December 2015, which allows all Queenslanders to access accurate legal information and service provider referrals.
The revitalised website includes new features to improve usability and functionality such as:
The new website also meets the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, which is essential under the Anti-Discrimination Act.
Our client information services call centre answered 151,282 calls in 2015-16 and provided 101,413 legal information and referrals services to clients. The team also provided 692 legal
information and referral services via email.
We continued to give 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 and limits their capacity to deal with their legal issues.
In May 2016, we began a new partnership with Queensland Police Service as a community service provider for the Police Referrals Management Service, assisting with early intervention for people who come into contact with police and other community agencies and organisations who require support for legal issues. Since May 2016, we handled 229 referrals from this program.
In 2015-16, we worked to improve our business processes and systems to further streamline the delivery of information and advice to clients. The changes included:
These actions, together with a new mobile-friendly website that encourages self-help and provides relevant legal information, have resulted in:
Financially disadvantaged Queenslanders can access our free legal advice and task 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 eligible clients at our Brisbane office and telephone advice to clients Australia wide and to overseas callers.
We provide a Prison Advice Service, which primarily uses videoconferencing to provide legal advice services to people in Queensland's prisons. This reduces travel time and provides cost savings. The Prison Advice Service and some regional advice lawyers also provide face-to-face advice
services at designated prisons.
We also provide task assistance services for people who might need help with preparing letters and other documents following on from initial legal advice.
We continued to provide 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:
We continued to provide a weekly advice service at the General Division of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) to assist clients considering appealing their social security matters. 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 and Child Support Division of the AAT 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.
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.
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.
During 2015-16, we continued to provide telephone advice clinics five days a week and also began providing a face-to-face consumer advice clinic at our Ipswich 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. Face-to-face consumer law advice clinics are now available at our Inala, Ipswich and Woodridge offices.
We continued to provide telephone advice clinics three days a week and also began working with the Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland (ADCQ) to provide a weekly advice clinic at their offices. The clinic is available to clients whose complaints have been accepted by the commission. Clients receive legal advice face-to-face or via phone about their complaint's prospects of success, the conciliation process and how to proceed to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
We provide a specialist legal advice clinic and minor assistance about federal employment law matters under the Fair Work Act 2009. We provide telephone advice clinics four days a week.
We continued to provide our Legal Advice Referral Pathways Program, which helps vulnerable clients, particularly women who have experienced domestic violence, to receive priority legal advice. The program operates in 10 locations around the state-Brisbane, Gold Coast, Ipswich, Richlands, Woodridge, Maroochydore, Toowoomba, Bundaberg, Mackay and Townsville.
Figure 7. Advice and task assistance services 2015-16
Our Criminal Law Duty Lawyer Service operates in 76 Queensland 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 court time being wasted. It also means witnesses and victims do not have to go through the stress of attending court.
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, Southport, Ipswich, Maroochydore, Toowoomba, Hervey Bay, Bundaberg, Rockhampton, Mackay, Townsville and Cairns.
The duty lawyer service provides information, legal advice, referrals and in some cases representation to clients with matters in court that day. 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.
In September 2015, we were a key partner involved in implementing the Southport Specialist Domestic and Family Violence Court, operating duty lawyer services to support clients and the court. The service helps people access free legal help before their court appearance. The service's clients include those affected by domestic violence, those who are responding to an application for a domestic violence order and defendants charged with breaching domestic violence orders and related criminal cases. The duty lawyers provide legal advice, representation and referrals to other legal and support services for people appearing before the specialist court.
Since September 2015, the duty lawyers in the Specialist Domestic and Family Violence Court have helped 2728 people appearing before the court for domestic violence matters.
In October 2015, we began operating domestic and family violence duty lawyer services in 13 other courts around Queensland. 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. Our Violence Prevention and Women's Advocacy team conducted training for the lawyers delivering these domestic and family violence duty lawyer services around the state.
The duty lawyer services are provided in the 14 courts by in-house lawyers and lawyers from preferred supplier law firms and community legal centres.
Providing legal help and referrals early in the court process helps 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.
In April 2016, we expanded our Child Protection Duty Lawyer Service to Brisbane, Ipswich, Southport, Maroochydore, Toowoomba, Caboolture and Pine Rivers Childrens Courts. The service provides free legal help to parents and young people before they appear in court for their child protection matter.
The service is based on our pilot child protection duty lawyer service, which has been operating in Cairns and Townsville since October 2014. It is 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 Queensland.
The child protection duty lawyer services are provided by in-house lawyers and lawyers from preferred supplier law firms and community legal centres.
Having lawyers available to provide advice to people about their child protection issues helps them to be properly informed before going into court, to feel more confident negotiating the legal process and more accepting of the outcomes of the process.
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 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. An important part of our dispute resolution program is our property arbitration program.
As a result of reduced federal government funding, we made some changes to our family dispute resolution program in 2015-16, including limiting family dispute resolution conferences to a single four hour conference.
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 is provided by an in-house lawyer and by contracting three private law firms to provide the service across central and northern Queensland.
Our in-house practice, together with hundreds of private law firms (preferred suppliers) and barristers, provide representation 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 lawyers, 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.
Our Grants division is responsible for processing applications for legal assistance and managing matters following approval. We assessed 38,379 new applications for legal aid in 2015-16 (see Figure 8 for more information) and saw an increase in the number of applications for criminal law matters compared with 2014-15. Applications are processed 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 merits 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.
Figure 8. Applications for grants of aid received and approved 2015-16
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 during 2015-16.
In the past year, following the state government's election commitment to reintroduce diversionary processes and programs, we actively participated in the interagency engagement to re-establish diversionary courts in Queensland. Our extensive knowledge and experience of previous diversion programs proved useful when providing feedback about the development and operation of specialist courts and programs.
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.
Our experienced lawyers continued to contribute to criminal justice system consultation to help increase efficiencies in the superior courts, particularly in relation to the case management of complex trials.
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 Townsville during mid-2016.
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.
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.
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.
We represent parties in domestic violence matters through grants of aid to private law firms and through our in-house legal practice.
During the year, our Violence Prevention and Women's Advocacy team provided legal advice, support and information to women dealing with domestic violence matters and related child protection and family law matters. The Application Assistance Program helps women applying for domestic violence protection orders in the Brisbane Magistrates Court, including:
Our specialist multi-disciplined Violence Prevention and Women's Advocacy team helps clients experiencing domestic violence. The team comprises specialist lawyers and social workers who provide services to people and practical advice about service delivery in domestic violence cases. A significant part of 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. During the year, our specialist lawyers also 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.
Samantha* is a 29-year-old mother with two children who suffered many incidents of severe physical violence at the hands of her now ex-partner. Samantha escaped the violent relationship with her children and moved into a crisis refuge.
When Samantha, in the company of police, returned to her ex-partner's house to retrieve essential items, her ex-partner seized their youngest child. Samantha feared for her child's safety given her ex-partner was known to associate with criminals and drug users.
Samantha contacted DVConnect for help and they referred her to Legal Aid Queensland's Application Assistance Program, based at the Brisbane Magistrates Court. The program's domestic violence prevention workers help women experiencing domestic and family violence:
The Application Assistance Program's domestic violence prevention workers helped Samantha with her legal aid application, an application for a domestic violence protection order and with
safety planning, and were successful in gaining an urgent ex parte order for Samantha.
She was then referred to Legal Aid Queensland's specialist Violence Prevention and Women's Advocacy team where a lawyer helped Samantha to make an urgent recovery order application to the Federal Circuit Court. The recovery order was successfully made and the child was eventually located and returned to Samantha who was then moved to a different women's refuge.
*Name changed for privacy reasons.
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.
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 2015-16.
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.
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. In 2015-16, our child protection lawyers continued to work collaboratively with community agencies who refer clients for early intervention legal advice and representation.
We provide specialist legal advice, assistance and representation in matters involving anti-discrimination, sexual harassment and vilification. We provide representation in the Australian Human Rights Commission, Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland, Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, Queensland Court of Appeal and Federal Court of Australia.
We provide specialist legal advice, assistance and representation about federal employment law matters under the Fair Work Act 2009 and specifically in relation to unfair dismissal, general protections and bullying in the workplace. We provide representation in the Fair Work Commission, Federal Circuit Court and Federal Court of Australia.
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:
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.
Our Consumer Protection Unit provides specialist advice, assistance and representation in consumer law matters. The unit provides advice to clients as well as lawyers and financial counsellors throughout Queensland.
The unit assisted people with:
We provide specialist legal advice, assistance and representation for clients considering appealing Centrelink decisions. We conduct weekly advice clinics at the Social Security and Child Support Division and the General Division of the AAT. We also provide legal representation for social security appeals in the AAT and Federal Court of Australia.
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:
Late on a Tuesday afternoon, Craig* contacted Legal Aid Queensland's consumer protection lawyers for advice.
He had received a bailiff's notice from the court stating he had to vacate his home by Friday. His home was being repossessed by his lender because he hadn't been making his mortgage payments.
His home loan was for $160,000 and his house was worth $355,000. Craig's wife had left him when he was away from home helping repair houses after the natural disasters of 2011. A downturn in the building industry and him being the sole carer of his school-aged son resulted in him becoming anxious and depressed and he soon fell behind in his mortgage payments.
Craig had applied for state government mortgage relief and his sister in the UK was also prepared to help him out. Craig did not have access to the internet at home and he had fairly basic literacy skills.
Our consumer protection lawyers helped Craig by quickly preparing the documents needed to make an urgent application for a hearing in the District Court to stop his house from being repossessed. This included helping to prepare an affidavit that outlined Craig's reasons for falling behind on his payments and his plan to get them back on track.
Craig received all of the relevant court documents from Legal Aid Queensland on Wednesday-less than a day after he contacted us. Before his court hearing that Friday, Craig received a call from the lender's lawyers conceding his application and stopping the repossession.
In 2015-16, 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 and the Gulf of Carpentaria. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Our preferred supplier law firms are required under their agreement with Legal Aid Queensland to meet our policies, guidelines, and file management, practice and case management standards. Preferred supplier files are audited to assess compliance with these.
In 2015-16, we monitored 20 law firms under our full file audit process for finalised files. In 2016, we expanded our audit process to include a new rolling program of compliance checks that will target specific aspects of compliance for current files. This approach allows us to focus on particular aspects of compliance across a larger number of firms and their current files, and respond to emerging issues.
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:
We are committed to providing services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. During the year, we:
We recognise many people with disabilities experience legal problems and require services that are responsive to their individual needs and circumstances. In December 2015, we completed work on our project to redevelop our website www.legalaid.qld.gov.au. One of the project's major objectives was 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.
During the year, we took part in a review of legal advocacy services for people with disabilities conducted by the Australian Government's Department of Social Services. The information we provided will inform the department's review of the National Disability Advocacy Program and help the Disability Reform Council to review legal advocacy services for people with disabilities.
We also hosted a 'Connecting disability sector workers and their clients to Legal Aid services' information forum where people from the legal and disability sectors received information about how clients can access our legal information and referral services.
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 340 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:
Figure 9. Legal advices provided by location 2015-16
Figure 10. Applications for grants of aid received by location 2015-16
We treat women, especially women experiencing domestic violence, as a priority client group. We support the Queensland Government strategy to reduce domestic and family violence by delivering legal information, advice and representation to disadvantaged Queenslanders experiencing domestic and family violence. We support and acknowledge Queensland's domestic violence laws' objective-to maximise or increase the safety, protection and wellbeing of people who fear or experience domestic violence, including their children.
Our specialist Violence Prevention and Women's Advocacy team deals with clients experiencing domestic violence. This 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 the responsiveness of Legal Aid Queensland 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.
The team acts for women with complex legal issues in the areas of family law, child protection, discrimination, domestic violence and crime. They also provide services to women from culturally diverse backgrounds and women with intellectual disabilities. We have a network of family lawyers in our 13 regional offices who deliver legal services to local communities in response to issues arising from family relationships, including family and domestic violence and child protection.
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:
We have legal information resources to help clients affected by family and domestic violence, which can be found on our website.
We provide our Legal Advice Referral Pathways Program, which helps vulnerable clients, particularly women who have experienced domestic violence, to receive priority legal advice. The program operates in 10 locations around the state-Brisbane, Gold Coast, Ipswich, Richlands, Woodridge, Maroochydore, Toowoomba, Bundaberg, Mackay and Townsville.
We also provided information sessions to women dealing with domestic violence matters at the Brisbane Magistrates Court. We 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. During the year, we also worked with the Ipswich Women's Centre Against Domestic Violence to provide advice to people in the Richlands area with domestic violence and family law matters in the Richlands Magistrates Court.
Table 5. Access by key disadvantaged groups 2015-16
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 met six times in 2015-16.
There are 12 RLAFs around the state. During 2015-16 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 fifth round to continue to provide CLE in partnership with other local legal service agencies.
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.
The CLE Legal Assistance Forum is a specialist forum of the QLAF. The CLE Legal Assistance Forum helps 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 CLE services.
During the year the CLE Legal Assistance Forum met three times and held a professional development workshop for forum members and the wider legal assistance sector. The workshop provided an opportunity to share knowledge learnings and outcomes from CLE projects initiatives and research articles and was well received by the sector.
The CLE Legal Assistance Forum's activities are reported to the QLAF each quarter.
The Children and Family Legal Assistance Forum was established in December 2015 as a sub-committee of QLAF. The forum aims to encourage cooperation and collaboration between legal assistance service providers working with families and children and to promote good practice across legal assistance services in delivering legal and related services to families and children.
A steering committee guides the forum's work and in 2015-16 was responsible for overseeing two working groups tasked with a specific project:
We act as state program manager for CLCs monitoring their financial reporting and ensuring that service delivery targets are met. During 2015-16 we administered funding on behalf of state and federal governments to 39 CLCs throughout Queensland (see Table 6 for more information).
This year Queensland centres received $18,243,820 in Community Legal Services Program funding. This included $1,844,152 in one-off funding from the Commonwealth Government across 15 centres.
The state government provided an extra $279,500 through its Project Funding account to four centres for the following projects:
Community Legal Centres Queensland 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 South West Brisbane Community Legal Centre received a $4500 grant for relocation expenses and the Court Network received a $12,630 grant to help recruit and train their volunteers.
Table 6. Recurrent funding for CLCs from state and federal governments 2015-16
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:
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:
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.
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 chief executive officer (CEO).
The group met twice during the year. During these meetings members were consulted on and provided feedback about:
We conducted our annual fees review in consultation with our stakeholders and increased fees for domestic violence matters and criminal law duty lawyer appearances by five percent. We increased fees for inquests to align with other Magistrates Court matters and preparation fees for contested child protection hearings increased by 40 percent. Travel and accommodation allowances increased across all matters by about 10 percent to facilitate representation across the state.
In November 2015, we implemented our new family law funding response designed to align with and support court processes in a simplified administrative model. In addition to this new model the Commonwealth family law guidelines were also amended to highlight our lawyer assisted dispute resolution model and align representation grants in parenting matters with the provisions of the Family Law Act. In particular, a focus on vulnerable clients as identified in the NPA was also incorporated. In January 2016 we increased fees paid to lawyers for family law representation by seven percent.
Our In-house Lawyers Briefing Counsel Policy ensures probity and accountability in decisions by our in-house lawyers to brief counsel. Our briefing 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:
A Briefing Monitoring Committee is chaired by the CEO to monitor in-house lawyers' briefing practices and ensure the In-house Lawyers Briefing Counsel Policy's goals are supported.
During the year, we developed the Legal Aid Queensland Workforce Plan 2015-18 to help us ensure we have the workforce we need to deliver on our organisational goals, now and in the future. Through this process, we developed a workforce vision and management framework to improve attraction, development, motivation, retention, safety and supportiveness. We defined a set of strategies and initiatives to achieve the framework's outcomes, building on our existing strengths and addressing identified opportunities. We have made progress in developing and implementing these initiatives.
We continued to provide our in-house CPD program during 2015-16. Most sessions are open to all staff, as well as law firms that provide legal aid services, CLCs and the ATSILS, with webinar facilities available to regional offices. Our program aims to ensure our lawyers are up to date with the latest legislation 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 practising certificates each year.
Other development opportunities for legal and non-legal staff included:
We also provided staff with face-to-face and online e-learning opportunities to familiarise them with our policies and procedures and to develop their skills and knowledge.
Our library provides comprehensive reference, research and research-training services to staff. It supports legal service delivery, planning and management through its modern collection, knowledge management databases and experienced staff.
During the year, we:
Key in-house legal information resources are freely available to preferred supplier law firms, CLCs and the ATSILS to help them provide high quality legal services to clients.
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 accessing accrued time leave, working part time, job sharing, telecommuting and purchased leave arrangements. 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 managing aggressive client behaviour. 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).
Figure 11. Staff absenteeism and turnover
At 30 June 2016, Legal Aid Queensland had 455.64 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees working in 14 offices throughout the state (seeFigures 12 and 13 for more information).
Figure 12. Actual staff by employment type (by FTE) 2015-16
Figure 13. Staff age profile 2015-16
We are committed to equal employment opportunity (EEO) principles and have successfully implemented these principles across the organisation. Our current EEO statistis highlight our commitment to equitable recruitment, selection and promotion policies (see Figure 14 for more information).
Figure 14. Equal employment opportunity target group membership 2015-16
In April 2016, we participated in the Working for Queensland Employee Opinion Survey. Sixty-four percent of employees (318 employees) responded to the survey-100 more responses than in 2015. The survey results indicated those employees who participated in the survey felt engaged while at work and empowered in their roles and had strong workplace relationships. Survey responses indicated a greater level of employee satisfaction than in previous years. Our results were very positive compared with the wider Queensland public sector. The feedback we received was invaluable in identifying areas for improvement and we will continue to implement changes in response to the survey feedback.
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:
The code guides us in managing issues like:
Our Workplace Behaviours Policy also provides standards relating to appropriate workplace behaviour, and an employee's Performance and Development Plan outlines obligations relating to the Code of Conduct. We manage Code of Conduct breaches 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.
Under the Public Records Act 2002, we are required to make and keep full and accurate records of our activities, and to comply with 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 streamlined approach to capturing business records.
In 2015-16, we continued recordkeeping reforms to improve and support good corporate governance by:
We continued the transition from paper to digital records by digitising the:
We also improved the reliability and security of our recordkeeping systems by:
We continued to implement appropriate disposal activities by:
We worked with other government agencies to share knowledge about best practice recordkeeping by:
During 2015-16, we continued to improve energy and conservation efficiencies to help reduce our environmental impact.
We continued to achieve significant savings by:
We continued to demonstrate our commitment to reducing our environmental footprint in other ways including:
We continued our active participation in waste management practices including recycling paper, cardboard, cans, glass and printer toner cartridges.
Figure 15. Herschel St, Brisbane office water consumption
Figure 16. Herschel St, Brisbane office energy consumption
During 2015-16, the Accommodation Committee carefully considered the future of our headquarters in Herschel Street, Brisbane after receiving reports from property market experts and the Legal Aid Queensland Board decided we would remain at our Herschel Street address and refurbish the remainder of the building to meet future accommodation needs. We have been investigating whether it is feasible for the office to be expanded to allow for some of our leased CBD tenancies to relocate back to the Herschel Street address to reduce future rental expenditure.
We began renovating the ground floor bathrooms at our 44 Herschel Street building in June 2016, which will include refurbished existing facilities, a new toilet and shower accessible for people with a disability, and a combined sick and carer's room.
We also secured new accommodation for our Southport office, which is close to the Southport courthouse and will provide significantly improved facilities for clients and staff. We plan to relocate the office in September 2016.
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-strategylegal-aid-queensland
We have provided the following datasets in addition to our Annual Report 2015-16:
To access more information, government data and the Annual Report 2015-16 Open Data, visit www.data.qld.gov.au