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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, legal advice and legal task services).

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, legal advice and legal task services
  • facilitated resolution processes
  • duty lawyer services
  • representation services
  • law and legal service reform
  • stakeholder engagement.
Services
Community legal education

4653

Discrete assistance

Information and referral

232 107

Legal advice and legal task services

37 008

Facilitated resolution processes

Family dispute resolution conferences

3247

Civil dispute resolution

4

Duty lawyer services

Criminal law duty lawyer

86 642

Family law duty lawyer

2505

Domestic and family violence duty lawyer

15 453

Child protection duty lawyer

450

Administrative Appeals Tribunal duty lawyer

249

Representation services

Applications received

40 600

Applications approved

31 194

Applications refused

9406

Table 3. Overview of Legal Aid Queensland services 2016–17

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 2016–17, we achieved 99.9 percent compliance compared to a 95 percent target.

Queensland Government service delivery statement measures

Performance targets Notes 2016-17 target/estimate 2016-17 actual

Percentage of administrative decisions referred to external review that are overturned

1

6%

3.3%

Percentage of accounts processed by Grants division within
a 14 day period

2

90%

97.5%

Average cost per client for crime duty lawyer service

3

$63

$45.62

Average cost for calls received through the call centre

4

$5

$4.27

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 new measure reflects the effectiveness of the grants processing area as it is expected that all accounts should be processed by the Grants division within a 14 day period.
3. This new measure reflects the efficiency of criminal law duty lawyer services as it calculates the average time spent with a client and converts this into a dollar figure based on the hourly rate.
4. This new measure reflects the efficiency of call centre services as it calculates the average time spent on a call through the call centre and converts this into a dollar figure based on the hourly salary rate of call centre staff, excluding overheads.
Table 4. Queensland Government service standards 2016–17

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 responds to 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 coordinating 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, Streetlinks, Young People Transition to Independence, Finance Fairs, Musgrave Park Family Fun Day as part of NAIDOC Week and the Mental Health Expo
  • hosted two face-to-face community forums in partnership with Queensland Council of Social Services; nearly 50 community workers and community lawyers from all over Queensland attended our ‘Essential services: prevention and pathways’ and ‘Sexually transmitted debt—tenancy, domestic violence and family law issues unpacked’ forums
  • coordinated our CLE webinar program for community workers; we delivered 10 webinars and videos on dealing with the police, credit and debt, domestic violence, bankruptcy, discrimination law, and accessing Legal Aid Queensland’s services
  • delivered 86 CLE activities to 4653 people and produced 19 resources 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
  • administered the CLE Collaboration Fund’s seventh 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 (ATSILS) and Regional Legal Assistance Forums’ (RLAF) existing community relationships and professional networks to educate priority communities across Queensland. The six 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 a community access point.

Website

Our website allows all Queenslanders to access accurate legal information and service provider referrals.

The website includes features such as:

  • mobile accessibility, making the site easy to read on smart phones and tablets
  • efficient search functionality, where users can simply type in what they are searching for without the need to understand where the information is located on the site
  • 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, best practice guidelines 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.
During the year, our website was accessed 1,022,278 times with 2,168,116 pages being viewed.

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

Call centre

Our client information services call centre answered 143,709 calls in 2016–17 and provided 95,701 legal information and referral services to clients. The team also provided 441 legal information and referral services via email.

We continued to give prisoners in correctional centres priority access to our 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’ call times are restricted and time waiting in a queue counts towards their call limit and impacts their capacity to deal with their legal issues.

In 2016–17, we continued our partnership with the Queensland Police Service as a community service provider for the Police Referrals Management Service. The service helps people who come into contact with police and other community agencies and organisations and who require support for legal issues. During the year, we handled 2854 referrals from this program.

Our call centre provided legal information to 95,701 people in 2016–17.

We also worked to improve our business processes and systems to further streamline the delivery of information and advice to clients. The changes included:

  • refining our filters and making better referrals to other service providers
  • training our client information officers in practical call handling skills
  • training our regional front counter staff on information and advice practices, pathways and referrals
  • introducing streamlined videoconferencing services by adopting new technology
  • streamlining and promoting client access to services across multiple platforms
  • refining our staff induction training to focus on customer service.

These actions, together with ongoing improvements to our website, which encourages self-help and provides relevant legal information, have resulted in:

  • stability in call wait times
  • a reduced average call length
  • increased capacity to provide clients with access to relevant legal information publications and online resources.

Flood and cyclone legal help

Legal Aid Queensland implemented its Disaster Legal Response Plan in March 2017 in response to Cyclone Debbie and subsequent flooding experienced across a large area of Queensland.

Our client information services call centre was the first contact point for legal help with a dedicated telephone line (1300 650 143) for people affected by the cyclone and subsequent flooding. We also developed a priority booking system for legal advice for these clients.

We promoted our legal information resources on our website and promoted our free legal services via media releases, social media, posters and by visiting recovery centres in Bowen, Cannonvale, Proserpine and Mackay.

We liaised with the Mackay Community Legal Centre and Caxton Legal Service about the legal help they could provide to those affected by the cyclone and floods.

We also participated in joint public meetings in Mackay and Proserpine with the Insurance Council of Australia and provided on-site legal advice clinics immediately after the meeting.

Legal advice and legal task services

Financially disadvantaged Queenslanders can access our free legal advice and legal task services by telephone, including via the National Relay Service, by 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 face-to-face advice to eligible clients at our Brisbane office and statewide telephone advice services. They also help as domestic and family violence duty lawyers as needed.

The FACT also provides legal task services for people who might need help with preparing letters and other documents following initial legal advice.

In 2016–17, we provided legal advice and legal task services to 37,008 people.

We continued to provide a call centre lawyer service, where an advice lawyer helps our 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.

Figure 7 Legal advice and legal task services
Figure 7. Legal advice and legal task services 2016–17

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.

Prison Advice Service

We provide a Prison Advice Service, which primarily uses videoconferencing to provide legal advice services to people in Queensland’s prisons. Videoconferencing 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.

During the year, we provided legal advice and legal task services to 2385 prisoners around the state.

Refugee and Immigration Legal Service advice clinic

We worked with the Brisbane-based Refugee and Immigration Legal Service (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 help clients to apply for legal aid (if appropriate).

Victim Assist advice clinic

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

Consumer advice clinic

During 2016–17, we continued to provide telephone advice clinics five days a week, and face-to-face consumer advice clinics at our Inala, Woodridge and Ipswich offices. In the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie, we provided advice clinics to clients seeking advice about their insurance.

Anti-Discrimination advice clinic

We provide a specialist legal advice and task assistance clinic about state and federal anti-discrimination laws. We provide telephone advice clinics two days a week.

Employment law advice clinic

We provide a specialist legal advice and task assistance clinic about federal employment law matters under the Fair Work Act 2009. We provide telephone advice clinics three 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 and family violence, to receive priority legal advice. The program operates in 12 locations around the state—Brisbane, Caboolture, Gold Coast, Ipswich, Richlands, Woodridge, Maroochydore, Toowoomba, Bundaberg, Mackay, Rockhampton and Townsville.
We saw an increase in the number of referrals and partner organisations during the year.

Women’s Domestic Violence Court Assistance Service and Application Assistance Program

During the year, we provided legal advice, support and information to women dealing with domestic and family violence matters and related child protection and family law matters, including through the Application Assistance Program and the Women’s Domestic Violence Court Assistance Service.

The Application Assistance Program helps women applying for domestic and family violence protection orders in the Brisbane Magistrates Court by:

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

The Women’s Domestic Violence Court Assistance Service provides free and confidential help to all women who attend the Brisbane Magistrates Court for domestic and family violence matters. The service is available to all women applying for or responding to a domestic and family violence protection order, and helps them:

  • access the court’s safety facilities
  • understand what protection orders are, including their conditions and what to do if an order is breached
  • understand the court process, including support and information
  • talk to the police prosecutor and court staff
  • make a safety plan
  • access relevant legal and community services
  • with crisis counselling and emotional support
  • complete applications for legal aid.

Child Protection Early Intervention Pilot Service

In 2016–17, we re-established a pilot service in Brisbane focused on providing legal advice and advocacy for vulnerable parents early in child protection intervention. The Children and Young People team employed three extra lawyers and a litigation support officer who are primarily focused on acting for parents in child protection matters—enhancing our capacity to undertake early intervention legal work in this area. The team works collaboratively with community-based support agencies to make sure the pilot reaches vulnerable parents involved, or at risk of becoming involved, with the child protection system. Early intervention legal support involves advocating for parents to receive support and guidance to keep their children safe so that statutory child protection intervention occurs only as a last resort. This support may involve legal advice and help before the start of court proceedings. We plan to evaluate the pilot service in 2017–18.

Case study: Child Protection Early Intervention Pilot Service

A woman was referred to the Child Protection Early Intervention Pilot Service by a support agency. She was pregnant and had an older child living at home subject to an intervention with parental agreement.

The early intervention lawyer gave the woman initial advice and attended a case planning meeting with her to discuss Child Safety’s expectations of her and what support services would be provided during the intervention with parental agreement.

An agreement was reached with Child Safety about support services and expectations about her unborn child. When the baby was born, Child Safety took both children into care, removing the infant from the client’s care at the hospital.

The lawyer helped the client to apply for a grant of legal aid in time for the lawyer to appear at the first mention of the court assessment order application by Child Safety. At court, the client agreed to the assessment order being made, but disagreed the children should be placed in care while Child Safety assessed their concerns. Based on the lawyer’s knowledge of the agreement previously reached at the case planning meeting, the lawyer successfully opposed custody being granted to Child Safety during the assessment order.

When the assessment was completed and the order expired, the Director of Child Protection Litigation applied for a protective supervision order, which meant the children remained living at home with the client, with Child Safety providing ongoing support to the family.

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 and mediating 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.

Case study: Family Advocacy and Support Services

We helped a woman after she was referred to the Family Advocacy and Support Services from the family law courts registry. She had separated from her partner and they had an 18 month old child. Her former partner was allegedly using illicit drugs, had committed significant and severe domestic violence during their relationship, and had been threatening towards her following separation.

A domestic and family violence protection order was in place between them and it had been agreed the former partner could see their child on some weekends since separating. The former partner had recently been charged with breaching the protection order but had not been served with the charges.

At a visit arranged for him to see their child, he attempted to run the mother over in his car while the child was in the back seat of the car. After this event, he took off without returning the child to the mother. The mother was very distressed and worried about her young child’s safety, wanting the child returned to her care.

The Family Advocacy and Support Services lawyer took instructions from the client, preparing an urgent application for a recovery order for the child to be returned to her. The documents were filed and the court listed the matter to be heard on a very urgent basis. The lawyer represented the mother at court and secured an order for the Australian Federal Police to recover and return the child to her care. A few days later, the child was returned to the mother’s care.

The Family Advocacy and Support Services support worker provided crisis counselling for the mother, helped with safety planning and supported the mother when talking to the police to give a statement about the incident where the former partner attempted to run her over. They also helped the mother to liaise with the police after the recovery order was issued, helping them locate the child and return the child to her care.

Family Law Duty Lawyer Service

Our Family Law Duty Lawyer Service provides help 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.

Family Advocacy and Support Services

In March 2017, we established the Family Advocacy and Support Services in the Commonwealth law courts in Brisbane, Townsville and Cairns. This is a federal government funded service focusing on giving more and earlier help to clients who have been impacted by family violence.

The service recognises people coming to the family law courts need more than just legal help—it involves lawyers and social support workers who can work together to address the client’s legal and non-legal needs.

The service provides legal advice and help for unrepresented people on their court date, complementing the Family Law Duty Lawyer Service. Legal help is also provided for clients who are not in court but have a very urgent family law issue, such as seeking recovery or airport watch list orders for children.

Lawyers give people information and legal advice, negotiate with other parties, prepare simple court documents and represent people in court (in some situations). Support workers can help clients with safety planning and referrals for their social support needs.

The service has already helped many vulnerable clients.

Domestic and Family Violence Duty Lawyer Service

During the year, we were a key partner involved in implementing the Specialist Domestic and Family Violence Court at Southport, 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 and family violence, those who are responding to an application for a domestic and family violence order and defendants charged with breaching domestic and family 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.

This year, the duty lawyers in the Specialist Domestic and Family Violence Court have helped 4879 people appearing before the court for domestic violence matters.

We also operated domestic and family violence duty lawyer services in 14 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 some circumstances, the duty lawyer may also appear in court on the client’s behalf for their domestic violence matter.

The duty lawyer services are provided in the 15 courts by in-house lawyers and lawyers from preferred supplier law firms and CLCs. 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.

Case study: Domestic and Family Violence Duty Lawyer Service

A woman presented to the Domestic and Family Violence Duty Lawyer Service after getting a domestic violence protection order the previous day with only mandatory conditions and a requirement the respondent must not go to her home.

The client gave information about evidence of injuries to herself and her children. The duty lawyer successfully applied to vary the order granted the previous day, adding an extra condition that the respondent must have no contact with the client or the children. They also arranged for a risk assessment to be completed by the police, resulting in a referral to the child protection unit to consider harm done to the children.

The duty lawyer also referred the client to support services to help with concerns about her tenancy and financial matters and to the local High Risk Team for ongoing case management. High Risk Teams are made up of government agencies working alongside specialist non-government services to provide an integrated response to families affected by domestic and family violence.

Child Protection Duty Lawyer Service

We operated the Child Protection Duty Lawyer Service in Brisbane, Ipswich, Southport, Maroochydore, Toowoomba, Caboolture, Pine Rivers, Townsville and Cairns 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 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. In some circumstances, the duty lawyer may also appear in court on the client’s behalf for their child protection matter.

The Child Protection Duty Lawyer Services are provided by in-house lawyers and lawyers from preferred supplier law firms and CLCs.

Lawyers being available to provide advice to people about their child protection issues help the clients to be properly informed before going into court, to feel more confident negotiating the legal process and more accepting of the outcomes.

Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland advice clinic

We continued to work 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, how to proceed to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT)and, if appropriate, help with applying for legal aid.

Social security advice services

We continued to provide social security appeal advice clinics in collaboration with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) and Basic Rights Queensland. We provide clinics at the AAT’s Social Services and Child Support Division and General Division on Tuesdays and Wednesdays each week.

Clinics focus 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. The service provides advice to clients on their prospects of success and/or evidence and, if appropriate, helps them apply for legal aid.

Workplace advice clinic

In March 2017, we began providing a Workplace Advice Clinic at the Fair Work Commission’s Brisbane office on Tuesdays and Thursdays each week. The clinic provides people with legal advice about unfair dismissal, general protections and bullying applications. Lawyers provide advice to clients on their prospects of success and/or evidence and, if appropriate, help them apply for legal aid.

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. The program achieved an outstanding result last year, with 78 percent of matters achieving an early resolution.

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.

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.

In 2016–17, our expenditure to private lawyers for representing clients was $58.75 million.

About 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.

Processing applications for grants of aid

Our Grants division is responsible for processing applications for grants of legal assistance and managing these grants following approval. We assessed 40,600 new applications in 2016–17 (see Figure 8 for more information) and saw an increase in the number of applications for criminal law matters compared with 2015–16. Applications are processed by staff in our Brisbane and regional offices.

We approved 31,194 initial applications for legal aid in 2016–17.

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 in line with 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

 

Figure 8. Applications for grants of aid received and approved 2016–17

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 are involved in the Magistrates Court callover process in Brisbane and provide case conferencing services for summary and committal matters. During the year, we expanded our in-house duty lawyer services in Brisbane to help unrepresented defendants in the daily criminal callover in the Brisbane Magistrates Court. This has been well received by the court and provides legal help and representation to a previously unrepresented group of defendants.

In the past year, following the state government’s election commitment to reintroduce diversionary processes and programs, we actively participated in re-establishing diversionary courts in Queensland. Our extensive knowledge and experience of previous diversion programs allowed us to provide feedback about the development and operation of specialist courts and programs.

Our lawyers also helped to progress and improve interaction with clients and local stakeholder groups involved in the Queensland Integrated Courts Referral Program.

Serious and general crime

Our lawyers specialise in the defence of complex and general criminal law cases, in Commonwealth and state jurisdictions. We also provide legal assistance 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.

Lawyers also provided help to clients who must appear before hearings conducted by the Crime and Corruption Commission Queensland or the Australian Crime Commission.

Our General Crime team has helped absorb some of the growing demand in criminal law work, particularly in the south east Queensland’s District and Supreme Court jurisdictions.

Our experienced lawyers continued to contribute to criminal justice system consultation to help increase efficiencies in the superior courts, particularly in relation to complex trial case management.

Appeals

Legal Aid Queensland represents people on appeal in the District Court appellate jurisdiction, Queensland Court of Appeal and the High Court of Australia. Appellate jurisdictions are the safety net for the criminal justice system and our lawyers appear in many appeals alongside in-house counsel.

Our lawyers work with stakeholders in the appellate jurisdictions to improve representation and the justice system generally. Our Appeals team helped to coordinate and deliver representation in a number of appeals before the Court of Appeal in Cairns during mid-2017. Our lawyers have also been engaged in initiatives such as the Court of Appeal Registry Hyperlinking Pilot, which provides all cases relied on by the defence by electronic hyperlink.

Mental Health Court

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.

Helping 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 psychologists 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, psychological and pre sentence reports and provide counselling services. We provide social work services from our Brisbane and Townsville offices.

During the year, our social workers and psychologists 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. Our psychologists help our criminal lawyers by preparing pre sentence reports. They helped 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 and family violence

We represent people in domestic and family violence matters through grants of aid to private law firms and to our in-house legal practice.

Our specialist multi-disciplined Violence Prevention and Women’s Advocacy team helps clients experiencing domestic and family violence. The team comprises specialist lawyers and social workers who provide services to people and practical advice about service delivery in domestic and family violence cases.

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

Helping 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 2016–17.

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, help children and young people to participate in legal processes that affect them, 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 addition to appearing in complex child protection and family law matters, our in-house lawyers also 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.

In 2017, we delivered the separate representative training program for lawyers wanting to join the separate representative panel, together with a child protection masterclass for existing panel members. We facilitated independent children’s lawyer and separate representative panel meetings 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 representing 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 QCAT in respect of reviewable decisions.

Civil justice services

Anti-discrimination services

We provide specialist legal advice, assistance and representation in matters involving anti-discrimination, sexual harassment and vilification. We provide representation in the Australian Human Rights Commission, ADCQ, QCAT, 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 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 is an outlays only scheme that helps financially disadvantaged people who have a civil law claim for which no grant of legal aid is available. Funded by the Public Trustee of Queensland and administered by Legal Aid Queensland, the scheme covers outlays required to prepare civil law claims for settlement negotiations and/or court proceedings. The scheme does not fund legal professional fees and lawyers accessing the scheme must agree to speculate their fees. The scheme operates under guidelines independent of Legal Aid Queensland’s grants of legal aid.

The scheme will consider providing funding for outlays where:

  • there are reasonable prospects of the scheme recovering outlays
  • 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 means testing and merit assessment, and assistance will only be approved if it is considered the claim has reasonable prospects of success.

Legal help for war veterans and their dependants

We receive federal funding under the War Veterans’ Legal Aid Scheme to provide help to veterans and their dependants in relation to appeals of Veterans Review Board decisions about:

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

In 2016–17, we helped 48 veterans and their dependents to file appeals.

Consumer protection

We provide specialist advice, assistance and representation in consumer law matters. We provide advice to clients as well as lawyers and financial counsellors throughout Queensland.

During the year, we helped 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)
  • insurance.
Social security appeals

We provide specialist legal advice, assistance and representation for clients considering appealing Centrelink decisions. We also provide legal representation for social security appeals in the AAT and Federal Court of Australia.

National Disability Insurance Scheme appeals

During the year, we began providing legal representation to people in their National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) appeals. The NDIS allows eligible participants to access government funding for reasonable and necessary supports to allow the person with disability to participate and contribute to social and economic life to the best of their abilities.

Decisions about their eligibility for funding and the extent of that funding are made by the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA). If a person is unhappy with the NDIA’s decision, they can ask for an internal review of the decision by the agency, and if they remain dissatisfied with the NDIA’s decision they can apply to the AAT to review the decision.

We provide legal services through arrangements with the Department of Social Services where a case raises complex or novel legal issues. Applications for legal assistance are made directly to the Department of Social Services.

In 2017, we provided legal representation to two NDIA participants seeking reviews in the AAT.

Legal representation in the Mental Health Review Tribunal

In 2017, we began working with the Mental Health Review Tribunal (MHRT) to provide legal representation services to patients appearing before the tribunal under the new Mental Health Act 2016.

The tribunal sits in 72 locations across Queensland, and it’s expected more than 2000 hearings each year will need legal representation services.

The Mental Health Review Tribunal is an independent statutory body protecting the rights of people receiving involuntary treatment for mental illness. It provides an independent review process and makes decisions about whether treatment should occur either in hospital or in the community.

To help service clients statewide, we have established an in-house Mental Health Review Tribunal team based in Brisbane along with a network of more than 25 external legal service providers (private law firms that do legal aid work and CLCs).

Our in-house team, working together with the network of service providers, gives legal help to some of Queensland’s most vulnerable people appearing in the tribunal across the state.

Case study: Providing legal representation to clients in the Mental Health Review Tribunal

Our in-house Mental Health Review Tribunal team provided legal representation to a client appearing before the Mental Health Review Tribunal for a review of his forensic order.

The client had been placed on a forensic order by the Mental Health Court in 2006 after being found of unsound mind in respect of a number of offences. The client had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and, before the order was made, had received limited consistent treatment for his illness.

Over the past 10 years, the client had made significant progress on his order. His mental health stabilised after introducing antipsychotic medication and regular therapeutic intervention.

At the time of the hearing, the client was living in the community with stable mental health. He ran his own business, engaged in prosocial recreational activities and volunteer work through his local church.

We advocated for the client at his hearing to represent his preference to have his forensic order revoked and replaced with a less restrictive treatment support order. The tribunal heard evidence from the client’s treating team and submissions from the Attorney-General’s representative. After considering the issues, the tribunal agreed with our submissions and replaced the client’s forensic order with a treatment support order.

Counsel

In 2016–17, 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.

We appointed new deputy public defenders to fill the vacancies created by the appointment of David Shepherd to the Magistracy and the appointment of Carl Heaton QC to the position of deputy director of public prosecutions.

Counsel continued to undertake complex trials and sentences in the Supreme, District and Magistrates Courts, and 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 (Sexual Offenders) Act. 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 advice on the merit of appeals to help the appeals section in assessing applications for legal aid. They also appeared in appeals against sentences and/or convictions before the Queensland Court of Appeal, including matters in which the Attorney-General had appealed against the sentence.

The increased volume, complexity and diversity of the work undertaken by counsel has provided opportunities for in-house counsel to develop the skills and experience that ensure legally-aided clients continue to 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.

Measuring client satisfaction

In March 2017, we commissioned market research consultants Colmar Brunton to conduct our biennial client survey. This involved a telephone survey of 500 previous clients. Clients were asked about their overall satisfaction with Legal Aid Queensland, and more detailed questions about the specific services they received and their experiences.

The survey revealed positive outcomes for Legal Aid Queensland in overall service satisfaction and performance across our key service areas. Overall satisfaction was rated 7.4 out of 10 and satisfaction was generally very high across most client groups in Queensland. The results indicated we are performing strongly on casework and conferencing services and civil law clients are the most satisfied with information and advice services.

Client satisfaction with legal representation and conferencing services increased respectively from 8.0 and 7.8 in 2015, to 8.6 and 8.5 in 2017. In particular, clients receiving representation from in-house lawyers rated their satisfaction highly at 9.2 out of 10.

Satisfaction scores are influenced significantly by the outcome of a client’s application for a grant of aid for representation in court. Clients who did not receive a grant of aid were the least satisfied, with a mean score of 5.1 out of 10, whereas clients who received a grant of aid scored the application service at 8.9 out of 10.

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

In-house lawyers

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 a survey in 2017. See page 42 for more information.

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.

As part of our commitment to ensuring funding is used in line with the terms and conditions of approved grants, we implement a rolling program of compliance checks. These compliance checks focus on particular aspects of compliance across a large number of grants of aid and suppliers.

In 2016–17, we focused on the following areas of compliance:

  • the client’s financial eligibility and supporting documentation used in assessing eligibility
  • receiving and retaining signed legal aid application forms
  • confirming a conference with counsel and the client happened before the client signed instructions to proceed to trial
  • holding signed instructions for trial before requesting a grant of aid for trial.

We communicate all compliance activity outcomes to the participants and use these to continuously improve our grant funding processes.

We require the work performed by preferred supplier firms is to a high professional and ethical standard and the preferred supplier firms comply with the terms of the preferred supplier agreement. We respond to complaints received from clients and other stakeholders about preferred suppliers in line with our complaints policy and procedures. We assess complaints to identify any concerns about the preferred supplier’s compliance with the agreement. If we identify concerns, the complaint is investigated by seeking a response from the preferred supplier and gathering any other material relevant to the complaint. We consider all available information and decide whether the complaint is substantiated or not substantiated. We then notify the complainant and the preferred supplier once the investigation is finalised.

We record all complaints and these can be used to identify a pattern of non-compliance. Substantiated non-compliances can be dealt with under the clauses of the preferred supplier agreement including a notice of breach or by terminating the preferred supplier agreement. Complaints of a serious nature can also be referred to the Legal Services Commissioner.

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 focused CLE sessions to culturally diverse communities
  • distributing translated legal information to culturally diverse communities
  • using free interpreter services for clients in line with the state government’s Language Services Policy
  • providing a fortnightly family law advice clinic at the RAILS in Brisbane
  • promoting our website, which includes a built-in screen reader and translation tool called ‘Browsealoud’, that 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
  • provided cultural awareness training to staff
  • implemented an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment strategy.

Helping 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. Our website is 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 implemented the National Relay Service to improve how people who are deaf, or who have a hearing or speech impairment can contact us.

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 370 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
  • Family Advocacy And Support Services in Cairns and Townsville
  • Child Protection Duty Lawyer Services in Cairns, Townsville, Ipswich, Southport, Maroochydore, Toowoomba, Caboolture and Pine Rivers
  • Childrens Courts
  • Domestic and Family Violence Duty Lawyer Services in Southport, 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
  • 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
  • a Farm and Rural Legal Service
  • 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 help to access free telephone legal advice
    supporting the Western Queensland Justice Network to provide free legal services to people living in north west regional Queensland
  • coordinating the work of 12 RLAFs across the state, which help to identify emerging legal issues in their communities.

Figure 9 Legal advices provided by location

Figure 9. Legal advices provided by location 2016–17

 

Figure 10 Applications for grants of aid received by location

Figure 10. Applications for grants of aid received by location 2016–17

Women as a priority client group

We treat women, especially women experiencing domestic and family 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 works with clients who experience domestic and family violence. Their mission is to increase women’s access to our services and improve our 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.

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 domestic and family 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 domestic and family violence, which can be found on our website.

Key disadvantaged group Criminal law % Family law % Civil law % Total %
Legal advice

Female

25.62

66.75

50.96

49.83

Indigenous

7.97

5.43

5.85

6.33

Regional and remote

13.55

15.38

11.50

13.81

Culturally diverse

10.51

12.12

13.45

11.96

Applications received

Female

23.14

62.42

62.77

36.64

Indigenous

12.81

9.90

11.05

11.94

Regional and remote

15.64

17.12

12.13

15.59

Culturally diverse

5.59

9.29

11.50

7.10

Applications approved

Female

22.53

60.24

70.40

32.90

Indigenous

13.56

11.20

12.00

13.04

Regional and remote

15.18

17.45

11.71

15.24

Culturally diverse

5.31

8.14

10.39

6.22

Table 5. Access by key disadvantaged groups 2016–17

Objective 3: Progress our vision through collaboration and policy leadership

Queensland Legal Assistance Forum

The Queensland Legal Assistance Forum (QLAF) helps 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. In 2016, three specialist forums were established under the QLAF:

  • Best Practice and Evidence Based Working Group—to promote cooperation and collaboration between legal and non-legal service providers to improve the quality and effectiveness of services and client outcomes through improved practice, efficient systems and professional, well-trained staff.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Service Planning Working Group—to promote cooperation and collaboration between legal assistance service providers and non-legal services, including social, community and health services working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
  • Mental Health Service Planning Working Group—to promote cooperation and collaboration between legal and non-legal service providers, including social, community and health services working with people with mental health issues, intellectual disability or cognitive impairment.

Regional Legal Assistance Forums

There are 12 RLAFs around the state. During 2016–17, 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 and 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 sixth 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 operates as a network and helps Legal Aid Queensland and the community legal sector to work collaboratively on CLE projects and share CLE information and resources to avoid duplication.

The network includes representatives from legal assistance service providers that deliver CLE services and fosters good CLE practice. During the year, the CLE Legal Assistance Forum met four times. The forum’s activities are reported to the QLAF each quarter.

Children and Family Legal Assistance Forum

The Children and Family Legal Assistance Forum is a sub-committee of the 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 2016–17 was responsible for overseeing two working groups:

  • a Domestic and Family Violence Services Advisory Committee
  • a Fragmented Families Training Committee.

Supporting community legal centres

We act as state program manager for CLCs, monitoring their financial reporting and ensuring service delivery targets are met. During 2016–17, we administered funding on behalf of state and federal governments to 38 CLCs throughout Queensland (see Table 6 for more information).

This year, Queensland centres received $19,652,515 in Community Legal Services Program funding. This funding included:

  • $1,809,962 in one-off funding from the Commonwealth Government across nine centres
  • $100,000 to the Women’s Legal Service to continue their hotline.

The state government also provided $298,000 through its project funding account to two centres for the following projects:

  • Community Legal Centres Queensland — QLAF Coordinator Project ($78,000), Self-Evaluation Toolkit Project ($50,000) and Sustainability and Development Project ($120,000)
  • Aged and Disability Advocacy Australia — Enduring Power of Attorney Project ($50,000).

Law and legal service reform

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

We provided submissions on the:

  • Farm Debt Mediation Bill 2016 (two submissions)
  • Limitation of Actions (Institutional Child Sexual Abuse) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 and Limitation of Actions (Child Abuse Civil Proceedings) Amendment Bill 2016 (one submission covering two related bills)
  • Independent review of product sales commissions and product based payments
  • Expansion of Financial Ombudsman Service Australia Small Business Jurisdiction
  • Youth Justice and Other Legislation (Inclusion of 17 Year Old Persons) Amendment Bill 2016
  • Adoption and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016
  • Proposed amendments to the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000
  • Review of the financial system external dispute resolution framework
  • Parole system review
  • Victims of Crime and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016
  • Options paper – the next chapter in child protection legislation for Queensland
  • Mental Health Amendment Bill 2016
  • Response to interim report – Review of the financial system external dispute resolution framework
  • Criminal Law (Historical Homosexual Convictions) Expungement Bill 2017
  • Review about whether a domestic violence disclosure scheme should be introduced in Queensland
  • Retail banking remuneration review
  • Proposed guardianship reforms
  • Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiry into section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975
  • Senate Economics Committee inquiry into consumer protection in the banking, insurance and financial services sector
  • Classification of child exploitation material for sentencing purposes
  • Insurance Council of Australia General Insurance Code of Practice Review
  • Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services inquiry into lending to primary production customers
  • Review of Farm Debt Mediation Act 1994 (NSW)
  • Senate Community Affairs References Committee inquiry into the design, scope, cost-benefit analysis, contracts awarded and implementation associated with the Better Management of the Social Welfare system initiative
  • Improving dispute resolution in the financial system – consultation paper
  • Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman Independent Review
  • National Disability Insurance Scheme Code of Conduct.

Stakeholder engagement

Working with government and the courts

We supported government policy development and the justice system’s efficient management 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
  • Streamlining Criminal Justice Committee
  • Mental Health Act Implementation Group
  • Drug and Specialist Courts Review
  • Domestic and Family Violence Specialist Court Working Group—Southport pilot
  • Brisbane Domestic Violence Court Stakeholder Group
  • Brisbane Child Protection Court Stakeholder Group
  • Federal Circuit Court Stakeholder Group
  • Language Services Reference Group
  • Department of Social Services NDIS Stakeholder Advisory Group
  • Australian Securities and Investment Commission Consumer Regulator Forum (Queensland).

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 and the recommendations of the Queensland Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence’s Not Now, Not Ever report.

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, barristers, psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers who do legal aid work
  • the revised expensive criminal cases request form
  • Mental Health Act reforms and the impacts for criminal law practice
  • establishing new services—the Family Advocacy and Support Services and legal representation before the Mental Health Review Tribunal
  • establishing panels of private barristers to do legal aid work in expensive criminal law matters.
Community legal centre Federal government funding $ State government funding $ Total recurrent funding $

Total

5 852 253

10 642 300

16 494 553

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Legal Services NQ Inc

93 315

48 028

141 343

Aged and Disability Advocacy Australia Limited

130 388

130 388

Banana Shire Community Legal Centre

63 475

63 475

Basic Rights Queensland

348 899

426 360

775 259

Bayside Community Legal Service Inc

125 037

125 037

Cairns Community Legal Centre Inc

313 413

259 020

572 433

Care Goondiwindi Association Inc

125 648

125 648

Carers Queensland Inc

251 144

251 144

Caxton Legal Centre Inc

886 562

365 548

1 252 110

Centacare

160 579

160 579

Central Queensland Community Legal Centre Inc

331 726

156 102

487 828

Community Legal Centres Queensland

224 942

224 942

Court Network Incorporated

423 649

423 649

DVConnect Ltd

130 388

130 388

Environmental Defenders Office Queensland Inc

233 000

233 000

Environmental Defenders Office of North Queensland Inc

100 000

100 000

Gladstone Regional Community Legal Service

126 950

126 950

Gold Coast Community Legal Centre & Advice Bureau Inc

335 089

227 642

562 731

LawRight (formerly Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House Incorporated)

86 560

1 074 379

1 160 939

Mackay Regional Community Legal Centre Inc

68 487

244 822

313 309

Moreton Bay Regional Community Legal Service Inc

125 037

125 037

North Queensland Women’s Legal Service Inc

513 452

328 245

841 697

Nundah Community Legal Service

125 648

125 648

Pine Rivers Community Legal Service

173 398

232 374

405 772

Prisoners’ Legal Service Inc

91 201

388 531

479 732

Queensland Advocacy Inc

462 248

462 248

Queensland Indigenous Family Violence Legal Service

107 381

129 586

236 967

Refugee & Immigration Legal Service Inc

211 545

470 222

681 767

South West Brisbane Community Legal Centre Inc

83 660

591 100

674 760

Suncoast Community Legal Service Inc

42 367

267 199

309 566

Taylor Street Community Legal Service

192 640

129 373

322 013

Tenants Queensland Inc

30 430

217 877

248 307

TASC National (formerly The Advocacy & Support Centre Inc)

494 610

1 022 786

1 517 396

Townsville Community Legal Service Inc

296 967

98 483

395 450

Western Queensland Justice Network

275 498

275 498

Women’s Legal Service Inc

599 038

607 103

1 206 141

Youth Advocacy Centre Inc

125 781

204 791

330 572

YFS Legal

150 234

344 596

494 830

Table 6. Recurrent funding for CLCs from state and federal governments 2016–17

Improving criminal, family and civil law grants of aid

In consultation with our stakeholders, we conducted our annual fee review and increased fees for all state civil and criminal law matters by 1.3 percent. We also increased the disbursement fees payable for waiting time, late night jury, prison visits, and social and family assessment reports. We introduced an amended fee structure for criminal law appeals that better aligns with court processes.

We continued to review our approach to assessing and managing expensive criminal law cases. Following consultation with the legal profession, we implemented a new more detailed expensive case application form and discontinued the former administrative process of issuing a proposal letter for acceptance. We improved our accountability for providing expensive case funding by extending the requirement for practitioners to maintain and provide a detailed breakdown of work completed with all accounts submitted for payment.

Briefing counsel policy and committee

Our In-house Lawyers Briefing Counsel Policy ensures probity and accountability in decisions by our in-house lawyers when briefing 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: Building on our business capability and sustainability

Our people

Workforce plan

Our Workforce Plan outlines strategies and initiatives relating to attracting, motivating, developing and retaining employees, and their safety. It also includes responses to the Working for Queensland Employee Opinion Survey results and considers relevant government policies (eg Code of Conduct, union encouragement and flexible work practices). These focus areas have been identified as important to achieving desired workforce outcomes and we are continually building on our existing strengths and addressing identified opportunities. During the year, we made progress in implementing our Workforce Plan’s initiatives.

Learning and development

We continued to provide our in-house CPD program during 2016–17. 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 needed to renew practising certificates each year.

Other development opportunities for 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
  • Criminal law litigation support conference
  • Grants operations training
  • First time supervisor training
  • Performance management training
  • Recruitment and selection training
  • Achievement and development plan training
  • Risk management training
  • Psychological wellness programs
  • Indigenous cultural awareness training
  • Presentation skills training
  • 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 and preferred supplier law firms. It supports legal service delivery, planning and management through its modern collection, knowledge management databases and experienced staff.

  • During the year, we:
  • started database projects to improve access to our existing online and hardcopy collections
  • downsized and relocated our hardcopy collection
  • maintained our specialty collections of judgments, including anti-discrimination decisions, comparable sentences, domestic violence hearings and family law property decisions to provide our lawyers with case law tools tailored to their needs
  • worked with our criminal and civil lawyers to design three new case law databases
  • 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.

During the year, we developed and implemented an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment strategy. The strategy aims to increase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment opportunities and retention rates through targeted recruitment, improved selection processes, inclusive work practices and employee development.

We also 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
Figure 11. Staff absenteeism and turnover

Workplace composition (full-time equivalents)

At 30 June 2017, Legal Aid Queensland had 474 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees working in 14 offices throughout the state (see Figures 12 and 13 for more information).

 

Figure 12 Actual staff by employment type

Figure 12. Actual staff by employment type (by FTE) 2016–17

 

Figure 13 Staff age profile 2016-17

Figure 13. Staff age profile 2016–17

Equal employment opportunity

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

Figure 14 Equal employment opportunity target group membership

Figure 14. Equal employment opportunity target group membership 2016–17

Measuring staff satisfaction

We continue to participate in the whole-of-government Working for Queensland Employee Opinion Survey. The next survey will be conducted in July 2017. Our results in 2015–16 were very positive compared with the wider Queensland public sector and we expect a similar result in 2017–18. The feedback we received from the survey 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 Enterprise Records Manager 8 (RM8) electronic document and records management system and have integrated RM8 with several of our core business systems to facilitate a streamlined approach to capturing business records.

In 2016–17, we continued recordkeeping reforms to improve and support good corporate governance by:

  • digitising important administrative records such as previous Legal Aid Queensland Board meeting minutes
  • introducing quality assurance processes for naming records for our external partner law firms lodging legal aid applications
  • identifying and rectifying gaps in our permanent electronic records.

We continued the transition from paper to digital records by:

  • introducing digitisation processes that can be completed using our fleet of multifunction devices around the state
  • digitising paperwork for the:
    • Domestic And Family Violence Duty Lawyer Service
    • Child Protection Duty Lawyer Service
    • Women’s Domestic Violence Court Assistance Service.

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

  • updating our digitisation procedures to restrict access to some legal records to single practitioners, rather than legal teams, to comply with conflict management policies
  • further developing the integration between RM8 and other core transactional systems.

We continued to implement appropriate disposal activities by:

  • implementing annual electronic file review and closure processes
  • supporting staff to archive aged emails held in Microsoft Outlook/Exchange
  • supporting staff to archive aged records held on network drives.

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

  • participating in focus group discussions with agencies such as Queensland State Archives
  • delivering presentations at the annual Records and Information Management conference ‘InForum’
  • hosting site visits to showcase our digitisation program and recordkeeping program.

Reducing environmental impact

During 2016–17, we continued with our endeavours to improve energy and conservation efficiencies to help reduce our environmental impact.

We continued to strive for savings by:

  • expanding the new lighting system that was installed as part of our main Brisbane office’s refurbishment
  • developing and implementing a plan to outsource our data centre, which will allow us to significantly reduce our electrical outlays on running and air-conditioning server equipment 24 hours a day
  • 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 to inform and encourage staff
  • implementing an electronic electricity use and reporting tool, which is monitored daily
  • monitoring our water use daily to check for potential water leaks in our systems and reporting on water loss
  • reducing our air-conditioning system’s use during the cooler months
  • using a high efficiency water chiller for our air-conditioning system, which effectively shuts down during low cooling demand periods
  • modifying our air-conditioning water pumps so they shut down when the chiller cycles off
  • increasing sensor lighting use to reduce energy use
  • introducing timers to reduce using water boilers, hot water systems and water pumps
  • venting our Herschel Street, 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.

Figure 15 Herschel St, Brisbane office water consumption

Figure 15. Herschel St, Brisbane office water consumption

Figure 16 Herschel St, Brisbane office energy consumption

Figure 16. Herschel St, Brisbane office energy consumption

Accommodation

During 2016–17, the Accommodation Committee and the Legal Aid Queensland Board maintained the position our Brisbane office would remain at 44 Herschel Street and we would refurbish the remainder of the building to meet future accommodation needs. We continued to investigate 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 office to reduce future rental expenditure.

We also leased new office space at 30 Herschel Street, Brisbane, in the building adjoining our 44 Herschel Street headquarters. The extra space will accommodate staff during a refurbishment and will also allow for future staff expansion.

During the year, we completed renovating the ground floor bathrooms at our Herschel Street building, which included refurbishing existing facilities, a new toilet and shower accessible for people with a disability, and a combined sick and carer’s room.

We also relocated our Southport office in September 2016. The office is now close to the Southport courthouse and has significantly improved facilities
for clients and staff.

ICT program

In 2016–17, we implemented Voice over Internet Protocol as a replacement to our traditional telephony systems. This has resulted in substantial cost savings and has increased our ability to collaborate internally with our regionally-dispersed offices and externally over videoconferencing.

We expanded the services available to our staff while working outside the office by introducing Surface Pro tablets to replace our laptop fleet. This allows our staff to access information immediately, increasing efficiency.

In 2016, we began a data centre outsourcing project which will provide us with robust infrastructure aligned with industry best practices. The project is due to be completed in 2017–18 and we expect to see significant improvements to our business continuity and disaster recovery capacity.

Open data

The following datasets are available on the Queensland Government Open Data portal:

  • overseas travel
  • Queensland Language Services Policy.

To access more information, government data and the Annual Report 2016–17 Open Data, visit www.data.qld.gov.au

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