Chairperson, Andrew Guy and Managing Director, Bevan Warner

'We value a society that aspires to fairness and opportunity and we work towards remedying injustice where it exists.' Strategy 2015 –18

We have had another successful year in helping Victorians in need, representing the interests of the voiceless and disadvantaged. As always, there are more things we can do as an organisation and as a community to ensure fairness and justice for all.

We have come a long way in recent years.  We have adopted a longer term planning cycle that has allowed us to expand services and more effectively meet population growth, rising client demand and increasing costs within a challenging funding environment.

Prioritising our services to people most in need and prudent financial management is paying off and we are now helping more people. Last year more than 85,000 people had a Victoria Legal Aid funded lawyer help them with their legal issue and we increased our services by 15 per cent, largely driven by our duty lawyer services responding to more summary crime and family violence matters.  We helped nearly 20,000 more Victorians through our Legal Help call centre, added language lines and substantially improved accessibility.  Grants of legal aid for our clients with more serious matters also increased by four per cent.  Significantly, our sound decision-making has also allowed us to maintain an operating surplus while increasing expenditure by $8.9 million.

Shaping the future direction of legal assistance

In addition to delivering more information, advice and legal services to individuals, in 2014–15 we continued to drive improvements that impact on the legal assistance sector more broadly.

We concluded a comprehensive review of family law services following extensive consultation and committed to 35 actions to enhance client and community outcomes. We continued working with the legal profession to implement our response to improving the quality of legally aided criminal trials. We broke new ground with the establishment of the Independent Mental Health Advocacy service, which will deliver non-legal advocacy for people on compulsory treatment orders.

Our partners and stakeholders in the legal and community sector have played a vital role in shaping the directions of all of these undertakings.

We also established two new significant partnerships that will inform future directions. These include:

  • a partnership with the Federation of Community Legal Centres, the Centre for Innovative Justice and Fastrack Program at RMIT University to improve access to justice through better use of technology
  • a two year alliance with the Law and Justice Foundation of New South Wales to undertake evaluation of legal assistance services.

Responding to family violence

We play a leading role in delivering information, advice and legal representation to women, men and children who are affected by family violence.

Our submission to the Royal Commission into Family Violence was a significant undertaking that reflects contributions from across Victoria Legal Aid, our values and the strategic directions. The submission contains 35 recommendations to improve the legal response to family violence.

We also made a two-year multi-million dollar commitment to provide more legal services to people affected by family violence. Additional State Government one-off funding of $2.1 million for family violence legal assistance services is welcome and will go some way to help us meet increasing demand and better meet client needs in the short term.

Strategy 2015–18

In March, we launched our Strategy 2015–18, which builds on strong foundations to broaden our focus beyond resolving one legal problem at a time to making lasting positive changes for our client and the community.

Over the next three years we will act with courage and stand up for what is fair. We will care for clients and invest in timely intervention and help especially for children and young people. We will match services to the needs and abilities of our clients and maximise benefits by working with others.

In developing our Strategy 2015–18, we consulted with clients, community partners, Commonwealth and State Governments, the judiciary, members of the Bar, lawyers in private practice, other justice sector partners, and community and welfare sector stakeholders. We were greatly informed by research we commissioned to better understand Victorians’ awareness of legal aid, perceptions about priority access to services, and their expectations of government-funded legal aid.

Increasing demand and financial sustainability

This is our second successive year of recording an operating surplus, following two years of deficit, which has substantially restored our short-term financial wellbeing. More stable government funding bolstered by the signing of a new five year National Partnership Agreement on 30 June 2015, also provides greater funding certainty for the future.

Our short-term financial sustainability has improved and we have temporarily increased our capacity to meet the rising cost of our services. We are now in a position, and are pleased, to have made a number of financial commitments during the year, that will improve access to justice and that will be incurred in 2015–16.

However, our surplus continues to mask the growing demand for our services, particularly in the areas of family violence, child protection and criminal matters, where demand has increased 19 per cent over the past two years. Demand is forecast to further grow in response to an additional 88 child protection officers, increases in police and child protection notifications and reporting of family violence.  Without further investment or changes to services we will again be in deficit by 2018.

Future outlook

The coming 12 months represent our first steps in aligning our efforts to the directions and commitments set out in our Strategy 2015–18. Importantly, they are steps that will enable us to deliver the most appropriate legal services at the right time, based on client needs.

Greater financial certainty, combined with short-term increased revenue, will allow us to invest in initiatives that will expand access to justice. In 2015–16 we forecast an additional nine per cent or $14 million expenditure.

This additional investment of ongoing ($11.5m) and one-off spending ($2.5m) has been made possible by greater funding certainty and the results of our efforts to plan and prioritise services effectively.

The extra expenditure will benefit civil justice ($1.9m), criminal law ($2.3m) and family, youth and children’s law ($7m) programs. Of that, $4 million will go to the private profession to meet the demand for additional criminal law and family law services, particularly in relation to summary crime and child protection matters, extra duty lawyer services provided by the Bar and private practitioner fee increases.

Victoria Legal Aid will spend $5.3 million on enhancing family violence legal services, establishing the Independent Mental Health Advocacy service, expanding Legal Help and meeting wage and rent increases. We have also allocated an additional $1.1 million in one-off project funds to begin a review of our means test, improve client complaint handling processes, undertake regional planning and demand analysis and help implement the changes recommended in our family law services review.

Finally, an extra $2.8 million will be invested in our community legal sector partners to cover additional family violence legal services, one off Innovation and Transformation Fund grants and ongoing wage supplementation.

Thank you

We would like to express our sincere thanks to the Victoria Legal Aid Board of Directors, our staff and our community and justice sector partners for their tireless commitment to our clients during a period of considerable change.

We also thank the Attorney-General of Victoria, the Hon. Martin Pakula MP, former Attorney-General of Victoria, the Hon. Robert Clark MP, the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, the Hon. Senator George Brandis QC, for their ongoing commitment to legal aid.

During the year we bid farewell to board member Virginia Rogers, whose term expired. We thank Virginia for her valuable contributions to Victoria Legal Aid and the Victorian justice system.

In May we also welcomed our new Board member Jennifer Kanis.

 

Andrew Guy's signature

Andrew Guy
Chairperson

 

Bevan Warner's signature

Bevan Warner
Managing Director

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