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Chief executive officer’s report

Legal Aid Queensland has overcome many challenges during its 41 years, but 2020 was the first time we had to confront a worldwide pandemic. As always, we did so with characteristic grit, compassion and innovation.

In the first part of 2019–20, the organisation continued to work towards achieving the objectives set out in our strategic and operational plans. We were also guided by the Queensland public service values—customers first, ideas into action, unleash potential, be courageous and empower people.

We started new service delivery initiatives, including:

  • trialling lawyer assisted mediation for family law property matters
  • a scheme for legal representation for parties subject
    to the ban on cross-examination in family law matters
  • a national helpline for Your Story Disability Legal Support, the national legal advice service for people who want to share their story with the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.

We improved our response to people most at risk of social exclusion by:

  • implementing a Client Assistance Service in our contact centre
  • ensuring our compliance with the Human Rights Act
  • developing the 2020–21 First Nations Operational Plan.

By rolling out these programs, along with our youth justice practitioner certification program, and a separate representative and child protection masterclass, we continued to build a centre of excellence in our legal practice disciplines.

We enhanced our business capability this year by upgrading our information technology standard operating environment to Windows 10 and Office 365, and developing a new Information Communication and Technology strategic plan and roadmap.

These improvements happened while we continued to experience growth in demand for core legal representation services, particularly in the areas of child protection and criminal law, that created financial and administrative challenges as the year progressed.

And then, in early 2020, along came the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic had a big impact on the broader legal system and our operations, causing us to pursue a rapid organisational change program to ensure services could continue to be delivered safely.

Our contact centre expanded its role to become a statewide hub for duty lawyer inquiries as well as legal information services. Legal advice services were provided by telephone. While duty lawyer services were heavily impacted, we continued to provide a telephone service, including interviewing watch-house detainees, and where technology was available a videoconference service. Applications for grants of aid continued to be processed, including additional grants of aid for Supreme Court bail applications. Our lawyers continued to physically attend court where it was safe to do so. In family law matters, lawyers conducted hearings and dispute resolution conferences via Microsoft Teams software. Our community legal education team continued to deliver webinars on key legal topics.

This massive change program was backed up by our business support teams which provided crucial support including expanded information technology services to facilitate work from home arrangements, records processing and workplace health and safety initiatives.

My thanks go out to Legal Aid Queensland staff, and our colleagues in the courts, government and private legal profession who worked closely with us to traverse these difficult circumstances.

At the time of writing this report, I had been appointed to the role of Queensland Ombudsman, starting from 10 July 2020. Nicky Davies, who was appointed to the role of acting chief executive officer following my appointment, will do a wonderful job leading the organisation through these difficult times.

I would like to express my appreciation to the Hon Margaret McMurdo AC for her leadership of Legal Aid Queensland through her role as board chairperson, a role she will thankfully continue to fulfil for a further three years. I also extend my appreciation to our Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, the Hon Yvette D’Ath MP for her strong support for the organisation and access to justice over many years.

I wish Legal Aid Queensland all the best in the years ahead. Leading this organisation was a great privilege. I salute its wonderful people and say thank you for inspiring me every day through your passion for achieving a just and fair society.

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Anthony Reilly
Chief executive officer

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