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Report to NLAF - February 2009

The first meeting of the working group was on Friday 6 February 2009.

Terms of Reference

Aim: To prioritise and, as appropriate, progress the strategies proposed by the NLAF Forum on the Legal Needs of Prisoners and to address other prison related issues referred by NLAF. In doing so, the Group is to consider special need prisoners.

Time Frame: The Working Group will report back to NLAF and the prisoners forum participants on a quarterly basis with the final report 12 months from the establishment of the working group. The working group will then cease operation.

Lead agency: Legal Aid NSW.

Membership: Representatives from relevant NLAF agencies and the Department of Corrective Services. Other agencies will be invited to contribute as appropriate.

At the first meeting three sub-groups were established.

  1. Information, education and training (chair: Suzie Forrell)
  2. Communication between inmates and lawyers (chair: Richard Funston)
  3. Co-ordination and facilitation of civil and family law needs (chair: Robin Banks)

The chairs of sub-groups have been asked to convene initial meetings within the next 4 weeks. Sub-groups will be advised to prepare initial reports on activities prior to the NSW Legal Assistance Forum meeting on 27 May 2009 and to report to the next meeting of the Working Group on 5 June 2009.

Issues identified at first meeting include:

  • CS has done a lot of very good work in recent years on many of the issues raised at the forum;
  • The working group will be mindful of not duplicating work of other groups. It will work within the terms of reference and aim for realistic outcomes;
  • The work of the Women’s Advisory Council at DCS, the Legal Practitioners Liaison Committee (DCS, ALS, Legal Aid NSW, and the Law Society of NSW) and the Community Justice Group will be standing items on the working group agenda and where appropriate matters will be referred to these groups
  • At the next meeting DCS will present on the Rights and Responsibilities program
  • There has been a significant increase in telephone calls received by the general switchboard of Legal Aid NSW, the Prisoners Legal Service at Legal Aid NSW and LawAccess. Information will be provided at the next meeting regarding where the increased prisoners calls are coming from. Possible explanations include: the screening of Back on Track, the greater presence of the Legal information Access Centres (LIAC) and DCS work with the Rights and Responsibilities program
  • Time limited phone contact and arrangements for prisoners with special needs - for example, prisoners with hearing problems (sign language interpreters and additional time with solicitors)
  • There needs to be a system of advising visiting lawyers when prisons are in lockdown.
  • DCS has drafted a document for visiting lawyers conducting legal prison visits. DCS to circulate
  • DCS has requested information for the next meeting from the various legal services on what materials/resources are available, and speakers/topics contact details. Contact with children, Department of Housing problems, State Debt Recovery issues, Fines, Apprehended Violence Orders … were identified as possible topics by DCS staff and prisoners requiring assistance
  • DCS has offered to speak to Academy trainers regarding the inclusion of additional information about legal services in induction programs