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Newsletter | 12 March 2012

This newsletter summarises the activities of NLAF during the period from December 2011 to March 2012 including the outcomes of the NLAF meeting on 7 March 2012.

Further information on NLAF activities is available at www.nlaf.org.au.

Working Groups

 1.   Working group on availability of lawyers for disadvantaged people in rural, regional and remote (RRR) NSW

  • Justin Dowd, President of the Law Society of NSW, has agreed to chair the working group.
  • The working group met on 27 February 2012. 
  • The Commonwealth Attorney General's Department is inviting applications for funding under the NBN Regional Legal Assistance Program.  Applications are due by 13 April 2012.
  • The NLAF RRR working group has submitted an application on behalf of NLAF. The proposal involves the establishment of professional development initiatives (including a mentoring scheme) and increased access to legal services through remote video conferencing in Far West NSW.The working group has successfully submitted an abstract to present a paper at the Rural and Regional Law and Justice Conference in Coffs Harbour on 18 – 20 May 2012.

2.   NLAF Prisoners Forum

       The NLAF Prisoners Forum met on 16 February 2012 and items on the agenda included:

  • Security scanning procedures in correctional centres – Assistant Commissioner Lee Downes addressed the Forum and provided information about the reasons for the introduction of x-ray and biometric scanning machines at correctional centres across NSW. 
  • Prisoners and links to homelessness – Members of the Prisoners Forum drafted a letter to the CEO of Housing NSW requesting that Housing NSW consider amending aspects of its policies relating to prisoners who are or were tenants of Housing NSW.  In particular, NLAF submits that Housing NSW should:
  • Amend the “Tenants going to Prison” policy and extend the period of time (from three months to six months) that tenants sentenced to prison can retain their tenancy; and
  • Consider tenancy reinstatement or housing allocation for prisoners exiting correctional facilities for the purposes of parole or release, who were previously tenants with Housing NSW and relinquished their tenancies upon incarceration.
  • Inmate access to interpreters for legal interviews – CS NSW is currently reviewing its policies in relation to interpreters.  NLAF Forum members are currently preparing a briefing paper to be submitted to CS NSW outlining the difficulties and challenge that solicitors and their clients experience in attempting to successfully access interpreters during legal visits.
  • The operation of the Work and Development Orders (WDO) Scheme in correctional centres;
  • The availability of solicitors to take on personal injury matters on behalf of prisoners; and
  • Programs for perpetrators of domestic violence and

3.   Fines and Traffic Law Working Group

  • The working group met on 6 February 2012. 
  • Legal Aid NSW solicitors and ALS Field Officers employed to work on issues of WDOs have been recruited and training took place in February 2012.
  • The Working group has provided input to the Department of Attorney General and Justice (DAGJ) Licence Disqualification Working Party regarding issues of licence suspension and disqualification.   

4.   Employment law services working group

       NLAF members accepted a number of recommendations from the Employment Law Services Working Group, including that:

  • An Employment Lawyers Forum should be established independent of NLAF. The purpose of the forum will be to provide an opportunity for capacity building and sector development amongst lawyers practicing employment law in the community justice sector of NSW (i.e. lawyers in CLCs and Legal Aid as well as lawyers undertaking pro bono employment law matters). The forum can provide the platform to exchange information about the latest resources and projects in the sector and to discuss recent developments in the law (legislation and case law) and recent casework.  
  • Stronger connections should be formed with the Fair Work Ombudsman and representatives from FWO should be invited to attend the Employment Lawyers Forum from time to time as appropriate.

NLAF members approved the extension of the operation of the working group in accordance with the Terms of Reference below:

 "The aim of the NLAF Employment Law Services Working Group is to examine ways of increasing employment law services for vulnerable workers in NSW.  The Employment Law Services Working Group will endeavour to achieve its aim by undertaking the following tasks in 2012:

1. Engage in information and knowledge sharing initiatives relating to employment law services for vulnerable  workers in NSW and elsewhere.

2. Develop strategies to increase and improve access to employment law services for vulnerable workers in NSW, including:

  1. strategies that make use of and leverage off existing resources including collaborative initiatives within the legal services sector; and
  2. strategies (outlined in order of priority) that require additional resources and advocate for those resources and services."

The working group will operate for a period of 12 months (subject to any decisions of the group to recommend that NLAF vary this timeframe).

5.   Legal Response to Disasters and Emergencies

The Working Group met on Wednesday 14 March 2012.

The working group is developing a checklist and briefing paper, explaining the checklist, proposing the NSW legal sector's response to disasters and emergencies in NSW.

Groups Reporting to NLAF

6.   Learning and Development Group

The group is scheduled to meet in March 2012.  The group is collaborating on an induction program initiative involving site visits to key legal organisations in the sector.

7.   Legal Information and Referral Forum (LIRF)

The Legal Information & Referral Forum is scheduled to meet on 28 March 2012.  LIRF will report to NLAF in June 2012.

8.   Co-operative Legal Services Delivery Program

NLAF members discussed the issues raised in the CLSD Report including.   

  • Fines and WDOs;
  • ADVOs;
  • Policing – Western and Far Western NSW, bail compliance and police underuse of discretion to give cautions to young people;
  • Housing – lack of access to social housing in Mid North Coast.  Overcrowding leads to breaches.  Black listing of tenants; 
  • No contact centres in Broken Hill or Taree. 
  • Shortage of lawyers doing Legal Aid Work in regional NSW, in particular court work and family law; 
  • Disquiet about fly in fly out legal services – E.g. Wilcannia community has consultation fatigue and bombardment of services;
  • OHS and IT issues for outreach solicitors – solicitors fatigued with long hours of travel.

Commonwealth / Federal issues

9.   Next Jurisdictional Forum with Commonwealth Attorney General’s Department

NLAF members discussed issues that are proposed to be raised with the Commonwealth Attorney General's Department at the upcoming Jurisdictional Meetings in June and September 2012.

10.   Referrals from Commonwealth service delivery agencies to legal services

NLAF members discussed the ways in which they have engaged with Centrelink and the Department of Human Services to in an attempt to increase referrals to legal service providers.  Representatives from LawAccess have undertaken presentations to senior management group of Centrelink and distributed LawAccess resources through the Centrelink mailing lists.

11.    Legal information for newly arrived migrants and refugees

Representatives of NLAF met with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to discuss opportunities to work with DIAC funded agencies to promote awareness of legal services and information about the law to new arrivals

The NLAF Project Manager met with CLE workers at the CLC NSW February Quarterlies.  CLE workers from CLCs and Legal Aid indicated they would be willing to meet and discuss developing a coordinated approach (e.g. agreed standard topics and resources) that can be used across NSW when approaching HSS services providers.

Other business

12.   Election of Chair and Deputy Chair

  • Bill Grant was elected as the Chair of NLAF for 2012. Anna Cody was elected as the Deputy Chair for 2012. 
  • NLAF members thank Anna Cody for her contribution as acting Chair of NLAF from September 2011 – March 2012.

13.   NLAF Website

14.   NLAF meetings in 2012

The proposed dates for NLAF meetings in 2012 are:

  • 6 June – Cth to attend Jurisdictional Forum
  • 5 September – Cth to attend Jurisdictional Forum
  • 5 December

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