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Our performance

Overview of services

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:

  • community legal education discrete assistance-information, referral, advice and task assistance
  • facilitated resolution processes
  • duty lawyer services
  • representation services.
  2015-16
Community legal education 4874
Discrete assistance1
Website sessions
Legal information publications
Information and referral via telephone and face-to-face2
Advice and task assistance3

900 324
156 251
223 555
42 798
Duty lawyer services
Criminal law duty lawyer
Family law duty lawyer
Domestic and family violence duty lawyer
Child protection duty lawyer
Administrative Appeals Tribunal duty lawyer

85 925
2063
7545
174
361
Facilitated resolution processes4
Family and dispute resolution conferences
Civil dispute resolution

3539
68
Representation services5
Applications received
Applications approved
Applications refused6

38 379
29 492
8887

The new NPA agreement has different categories than the previous agreement. It also has different counting rules applied.

  1. Discrete assistance was previously reported as 'preventative and early intervention legal services'.
  2. The number of web page views and publications are no longer included under 'Information and referral'.
  3. Under the previous NPA, each area of law covered during an advice or minor assistance service was counted as a separate service. Under the new rules, these services are only counted once.
  4. Facilitated resolution processes was previously reported as 'dispute resolution services' and was counted as the number of funded parties plus certificates issued. It is now limited to conferences created.
  5. Representation services was previously reported as 'litigation services'. Representation services represents grants of aid for representation.
  6. Some applications received may have been initially refused and subsequently approved on review.

Table 3. Overview of Legal Aid Queensland services

Progress toward National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services target

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.

Queensland Government service delivery statement measures

Performance targets Notes 2015-16 target/estimate 2015-16 actual
Percentage of administrative decisions referred to external review that are overturned 1 6% 1.3%
Average time spent with client to provide legal advice 2 30mins 32.4mins
Average time per client duty lawyer services 3 30mins 31.4mins
  1. This measure reflects the effectiveness of the decision making process for approval of grants of aid to clients. The positive result is the outcome of continued decision making training and improvement processes by the Grants division. This measure will be continually monitored by management.
  2. This measure will be discontinued for Service Delivery Statement reporting purposes in 2016-17 and replaced by a better measure of efficiency, 'average cost for calls received through the call centre'. It will continue to be reported in internal performance reporting.
  3. This measure will be discontinued for Service Delivery Statement reporting purposes in 2016-17 and replaced by a better measure of efficiency, 'average cost per client for duty lawyer service'. It will continue to be reported in internal performance reporting.

Table 4. 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

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
  • help community members to understand their legal rights and responsibilities and how to access legal help if they need it
  • help stakeholders to understand our services and how to access them.

Our CLE Strategy is delivered through:

  • web based legal information and multimedia resources
  • written publications, including legal information factsheets and guides
  • legal information sessions and webinars for community members and community support workers
  • collaborative projects that focus on increasing awareness of the law and our services within hard-to-reach communities
  • participation in community events such as Homeless Connect.

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]
  • hosted a 'Connecting disability sector workers and their clients to Legal Aid services' information forum; 62 people from the legal and disability sectors attended the forum and received information about how clients can access our legal information and referral services
  • coordinated Legal Aid Queensland's CLE webinar program for community workers; we have delivered eight webinars since the program's launch in October 2015 with topics
    including credit and debt, youth justice, domestic violence, bankruptcy, applying for the Disability Support Pension, discrimination and accessing Legal Aid Queensland's services
  • delivered 99 CLE sessions to 4874 people in response to sector or community need; topics included Legal Aid Queensland's services, young adults and crime, cyber bullying and sexting, domestic violence, dealing with clients with impaired capacity, consumer law, mortgage stress, discrimination, credit and debt, consumer leases and contracts
  • funded the Refugee and Immigration Legal Service (RAILS) to do a research project to inform us about how to better focus our CLE efforts on domestic and family violence for migrant and refugee communities; the project report will outline recommended approaches for delivering CLE to migrant and refugee communities
  • administered the CLE Collaboration Fund's sixth round to resource collaborative initiatives and partnerships to extend the reach of our CLE work. The fund allows us to draw on community legal centres (CLCs), the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service and Regional Legal Assistance Forums' existing community relationships and professional networks to effectively engage with target audiences across Queensland. The seven funded projects will deliver targeted CLE resources and initiatives to elderly people, people with disabilities, migrant communities, Indigenous people and young people.

Discrete assistance

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 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.

Website

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:

  • mobile accessibility, making the site easy to read on smart phones and tablets
  • improved search functionality, both within the site and through Google
  • a quick exit button on the right of each page, which allows users who are viewing sensitive information to quickly exit the site and redirects them to another website
  • a built-in screen reader and translation tool called "Browsealoud", which will read out our content to users (especially useful for people with vision impairments or low literacy levels)
  • a 'For lawyers' section, which includes announcements, key policies and procedures (like the Grants Handbook, and best practice and case management standards) for our preferred supplier lawyers
  • a 'Find a lawyer' search feature, which allows users to locate a preferred supplier law firm or CLC near them
  • legal information written in plain language to make it easier to use and understand.

The new website also meets the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, which is essential under the Anti-Discrimination Act.

During the year, our website was accessed 900,324 times with 1,987,044 pages being viewed.
Call centre

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:

  • purchasing a rostering system that analyses data and enables targeted staff rostering in peak times
  • refining our filters and making better referrals to other service providers
  • training our client information officers in practical call handling skills

These actions, together with a new mobile-friendly website that encourages self-help and provides relevant legal information, have resulted in:

  • a reduced average call wait time
  • a decrease in the number of abandoned calls waiting in the call queue
  • greater availability of advice bookings
  • stability in the average length of calls.
Our call centre provided legal information to 101,413 people in 2015-16 compared with 95,679 people in 2014-15.

Advice and task assistance

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.

In 2015-16, we provided legal advice and task assistance services to 42,798 people.

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 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.

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.

Consumer advice clinic

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.

Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland advice clinic

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.

Employment law advice clinic

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.

Legal Advice Referral Pathways Program

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.jpg  

Figure 7. Advice and task assistance services 2015-16

Duty lawyer services

Criminal law duty lawyer service

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 criminal law duty lawyers ensured 85,925 children and adults were represented in court, a six percent increase compared with 2014-15.

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, 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.

Our family law duty lawyers helped 2063 unrepresented people get through their day in court.

Domestic and family violence duty lawyer service

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.

Since September 2015, the domestic and family violence duty lawyers have helped 7545 people on the day of their court appearance.

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.

Child protection duty lawyer service

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.

Our child protection duty lawyers helped 174 people with their child protection matters during 2015-16.

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.

Facilitated resolution processes

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 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.

We provided 3539 family law dispute resolution services during the year.

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.

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 is provided by an in-house lawyer and by contracting three private law firms to provide the service across central and northern Queensland.

Representation services

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.

In 2015-16, our expenditure to private lawyers for representing clients was $58.2 million.

Processing applications for grants of aid

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.

We approved 29,492 initial applications for legal aid in 2015-16.

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.

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Figure 8. Applications for grants of aid received and approved 2015-16

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 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.

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.

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.

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 Townsville during mid-2016.

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 those affected by domestic violence

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:

  • 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. 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.

Case study: Helping vulnerable people access justice

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:

  • to prepare an application for a domestic violence protection order or changes (variations) to an existing order
  • to lodge domestic violence protection order applications at the Brisbane Magistrates Court
  • by providing them with support in court
  • with risk assessment and safety planning
  • by referring them to relevant legal and community support services for their situation.

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.

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.

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 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.

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. In 2015-16, our child protection lawyers continued to work collaboratively with community agencies who refer clients for early intervention legal advice and representation.

Civil justice services

Anti-discrimination services

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.

Employment law

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.

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, 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:

  • 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

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.

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.

Case study: Stopping housing repossession

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.

*Name changed for privacy reasons.

Counsel

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.

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. We conducted the last survey in 2015 and presented the results in our 2014-15 annual report. We will conduct the next survey in 2017.

Preferred supplier law firms

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.

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
  • launching our new website, which includes a built-in screen reader and translation tool called "Browsealoud", which can translate content into 90 languages.

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 ATSILS
  • 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
  • coordinated 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. 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:

  • 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, Townsville, Brisbane, Ipswich, Southport, Maroochydore, Toowoomba, Caboolture and Pine Rivers Childrens Courts
  • domestic and family violence duty lawyer services in Southport, Brisbane, Ipswich, Maroochydore, Toowoomba, Caboolture, Pine Rivers, Cairns, Townsville, Ipswich, Mackay, Rockhampton, Richlands and Bundaberg
  • criminal law duty lawyer services in regional towns across Queensland including Ingham, Ayr, Cloncurry and Childers
  • in-house counsel appearing in regional court circuits including Innisfail, Bowen and Charters\ Towers, and as counsel in courts in Emerald and Toowoomba
  • legal outreach clinics from our offices to Cooktown and Goondiwindi where lawyers travel to surrounding regions or link in by videoconference to provide legal advice services
  • an expanded Farm and Rural Legal Service (see providing services to the farming community above)
  • 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, Rockhampton 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 2015-16

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Figure 10. Applications for grants of aid received by location 2015-16

Women as a priority client group

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:

  • Best practice guidelines for working with people who have experienced domestic violence
  • Best practice guidelines for lawyers working with respondents in domestic violence proceedings
  • Best practice guidelines for working with sexual assault victims
  • 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.

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.

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

25.37
7.31
14.06
9.44

67.31
5.50
15.24
10.41

53.19
6.30
12.99
14.18

50.19
6.28
14.32
10.98
Applications received
Female
Indigenous
Regional and remote
Culturally diverse

21.91
13.60
17.54
5.32

61.97
9.87
17.05
8.30

64.32
9.98
12.73
10.41

37.34
12.21
16.85
6.70
Applications approved
Female
Indigenous
Regional and remote
Culturally diverse

20.86
14.28
17.35
5.13

59.43
10.95
15.85
7.79

71.31
11.40
11.40
9.45

33.67
13.32
16.46
6.10

Table 5. Access by key disadvantaged groups 2015-16

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 met six times in 2015-16.

Regional Legal Assistance Forums

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.

Community Legal Education Legal Assistance Forum

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.

Children and Family Legal Assistance Forum

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:

  • an evaluation committee to oversee the Domestic and Family Violence Duty Lawyer Service review
  • a training workshop for lawyers focusing on child protection domestic violence and family law disputes involving allegations of abuse and/or violence.

Supporting community legal centres

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:

  • Caxton Legal Centre - Queensland Law Handbook Project ($95,000)
  • Community Legal Centres Queensland (previously QAILS) - Training & Development Project ($30,000)
  • Community Legal Centres Queensland - Self Evaluation of Community Legal Services Project ($25,000)
  • Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House (QPILCH) - Legal Health Check ($62,500)
  • QPILCH - Best Practice Service Delivery for People with Mental Health Issues ($42,000)
  • Aged and Disability Advocacy Australia Limited - Enduring Power of Attorney Project ($25,000).

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.

Community legal centre Federal government funding $ State government funding $ Total recurrent funding $
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women's Legal Service NQ Inc 89 956 46 686 136 642
Aged and Disability Advocacy Australia Limited - 126 744 126 744
Banana Shire Community Legal Centre - 123 402 123 402
Basic Rights Queensland 342 303 414 444 756 747
Bayside Community Legal Service Inc - 121 543 121 543
Cairns Community Legal Centre Inc 298 029 251 781 549 810
Care Goondiwindi Association Inc - 122 136 122 136
Carers Queensland Inc - 244 125 244 125
Caxton Legal Centre Inc 872 600 355 332 1 227 932
Centacare - 156 091 156 091
Central Queensland Community Legal Centre Inc 326 502 79 755 406 257
Community Legal Centres Queensland - 218 656 218 656
Court Network Inc - 411 810 411 810
DVConnect Ltd - 126 744 126 744
Environmental Defenders Office Queensland Inc - 100 000 100 000
Environmental Defenders Office of North Queensland Inc - 100 000 100 000
Gladstone Regional Community Legal Service - 123 402 123 402
Gold Coast Community Legal Centre & Advice Bureau Inc 317 293 221 281 538 574
Mackay Regional Community Legal Centre Inc 65 809 237 980 303 789
Moreton Bay Regional Community Legal Service Inc - 122 136 122 136
Pine Rivers Community Legal Service 169 407 225 881 395 288
Prisoners' Legal Service Inc 89 765 377 673 467 438
Queensland Advocacy Inc - 449 330 449 330
Queensland Indigenous Family Violence Legal Service 103 182 125 964 229 146
Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House Inc 83 175 1 044 352 1 127 527
Refugee and Immigration Legal Service Inc 208 214 457 081 665 295
Roma Community Legal Service Inc 12 113 67 699 79 812
South West Brisbane Community Legal Centre Inc 81 083 574 582 655 665
Suncoast Community Legal Service Inc 40 282 259 732 300 014
Taylor Street Community Legal Service 181 197 125 757 306 954
Tenants Queensland Inc 27 285 211 788 239 073
The Advocacy and Support Centre Inc 474 709 926 504 1 401 213
Townsville Community Legal Service Inc 291 030 95 731 386 761
Western Queensland Justice Network 271 160 - 271 160
Women's Legal Service Inc 589 604 597 123 1 186 727
Youth Advocacy Centre Inc 123 799 199 068 322 867
YFS Legal 146 608 334 966 481 574
Total 5 710 471 10 217 894 15 928 365

Table 6. Recurrent funding for CLCs from state and federal governments 2015-16

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:

  • Review of the Crime and Corruption Commission (two submissions)
  • Electronic Publication of Court Proceedings Issues Paper
  • Inquiry into the Impairment of Customer Loans (two submissions)
  • Taskforce on Organised Crime Legislation
  • 'Lemon' laws: an inquiry into consumer protection and remedies for buyers of new motor vehicles
  • Review of the small amount credit contract laws
  • Discussion paper: Circumstance of aggravation and strangulation
  • National Inquiry into Employment Discrimination against Older Australians and Australians with Disability
  • Reinstatement of Special Circumstances Courts and Court Diversionary Programs
  • Youth Justice and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2015
  • Inquiry into the Family Law Amendment (Financial Agreements and Other Measures) Bill 2015
  • Code of Conduct for credit repair industry
  • Supporting families and protecting children in Queensland: a new legislation framework discussion paper
  • Review of the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012
  • Youth Justice and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016
  • Sexual Assault Counselling Privilege consultation paper
  • Human Rights Inquiry
  • Australian Consumer Law Review.

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:

  • Queensland Courts Safety and Risk Committee
  • Videoconferencing Operations Reference Group
  • Magistrates Court of Queensland's Brisbane Criminal Law Stakeholder Group
  • Queensland Courts Users Stakeholder Group
  • Supreme Court Streamlining Criminal Justice Committee
  • Mental Health Act Implementation Group
  • Drug and Specialist Courts Review
  • Director of Child Protection Expert Advisory Group
  • Domestic and Family Violence Specialist Court Trial Working Group-Southport pilot
  • Brisbane Domestic Violence Court Stakeholder Group
  • Brisbane Child Protection Court Stakeholder Group
  • Federal Circuit Court Stakeholder Group
  • Child Protection Reforms Senior Officers Group
  • Childrens Court Case Management Committee
  • Language Services Reference Group.

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.

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 chief executive officer (CEO).

The group met twice 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.

Improving criminal family and civil law grants of aid

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.

Briefing counsel policy and committee

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:

  • consider the Law Council of Australia's Equitable Briefing Policy which is aimed at promoting diversity equality and respect to improve the retention of women barristers within the profession
  • consider briefing in-house counsel to ensure cost effectiveness
  • briefing regional barristers wherever a barrister of sufficient experience and expertise is available
  • briefing in a way that develops a wide and diverse pool of barristers who can do legal aid work
  • ensuring a balanced distribution of work to barristers who have appropriate experience and expertise
  • being objective independent apolitical and impartial.

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.

Objective 4: Build on our business capability and sustainability

Our people

Workforce plan

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.

Learning and development

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:

  • Civil, family and child protection law intensives
  • Complaints investigation
  • Computer systems including Employee Self Service, Visualfiles, Windows 7, Microsoft Office and Excel
  • Dispute resolution conference organisers conference
  • Family law litigation support conference
  • Grants operations training
  • Leadership and transitioning to management
  • Induction training for all new staff.

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.

Library services

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:

  • introduced a new lending platform that streamlines circulating hardcopy materials
  • introduced automated systems for current awareness services to help our lawyers and decision makers keep up to date with changes to civil, criminal and family law
  • maintained and developed our collections of anti-discrimination decisions, comparable sentences, criminal judgments, dangerous prisoner decisions, domestic violence hearings, and family law property decisions to provide our lawyers and service providers with case law tools that are tailored to their needs
  • trained staff to effectively use legal information resources for legal research.

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.

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 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).

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Figure 11. Staff absenteeism and turnover

Workplace composition (full-time equivalents)

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.jpg  

Figure 12. Actual staff by employment type (by FTE) 2015-16

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Figure 13. Staff age profile 2015-16

Equal employment opportunity

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.jpg

Figure 14. Equal employment opportunity target group membership 2015-16

Measuring staff satisfaction

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.

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 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.

Our systems and processes

Recordkeeping

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:

  • researching the move to electronic and digital signatures to support maturing recordkeeping knowledge and skills
  • identifying and rectifying gaps in our permanent electronic records.

We continued the transition from paper to digital records by digitising the:

  • cheques received ledger
  • correspondence processes for Right to Information and complaints
  • legal advice and duty lawyer forms
  • correspondence processes for the Civil Law Legal Aid Scheme including a File Transfer Protocol, allowing the organisation to share electronic files with the Public Trustee of Queensland and removing the need to physically transfer large paper files between both authorities
  • accounts payable invoice approval process.

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

  • reviewing our business continuity plan to adequately cover systems support in the event of an emergency
  • reviewing compliance with records security.

We continued to implement appropriate disposal activities by:

  • implementing annual electronic file review and closure processes
  • reviewing and disposing old system data that was incomplete for current recordkeeping processes
  • completing the conversion to the General Retention and Disposal Schedule for Administrative Records version 7.

We worked with other government agencies to share knowledge about best practice recordkeeping by:

  • hosting site visits to showcase our digitisation program and recordkeeping program
  • responding to feedback and submission requests on state and federal legislation and or standards.

Reducing environmental impact

During 2015-16, we continued to improve energy and conservation efficiencies to help reduce our environmental impact.

We continued to achieve significant savings by:

  • expanding the new lighting system that was installed as part of our main Brisbane office's refurbishment
  • 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 three 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 figures
  • 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 air-conditioning systems' use 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 are off
  • increasing sensor lighting use
  • introducing timers to reduce using 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 continued to demonstrate our commitment to reducing 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 our active participation in waste management practices including recycling paper, cardboard, cans, glass and printer toner cartridges.

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Figure 15. Herschel St, Brisbane office water consumption

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Figure 16. Herschel St, Brisbane office energy consumption

Accommodation

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.

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-strategylegal-aid-queensland

We have provided the following datasets in addition to our Annual Report 2015-16:

  • overseas travel
  • Queensland Language Services Policy.

To access more information, government data and the Annual Report 2015-16 Open Data, visit www.data.qld.gov.au

 
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