Issue 74: August 2012
Welcome to the August 2012 edition of the e-Newsletter of the National Pro Bono Resource Centre. We welcome your feedback/contributions/ideas – please email [email protected]. In this edition, read about:
Australia’s community legal services are facing chronic underfunding, longer waiting lists, and being forced to turn away greater numbers of people, according to the ACOSS Australian Community Sector Survey 2012 released on 13 August 2012.
The survey, completed by 665 agencies from around the country, provides the most comprehensive picture of how the non-government community services and welfare sector is travelling. This year the report reveals the extent of the crisis engulfing the nation’s community legal services.
“About 73% of legal services around the country reported not being about to meet demand for services, surpassed only by the problems we know are facing housing and homeless services,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.
The survey found that a record 11,693 (or 14%) people presenting for help were turned away by CLCs over the past year of reporting. Legal service providers reported having to restrict services to clients resulting in increasing waiting lists.
Dr Goldie said: “This is particularly concerning since community legal centres work with partners in legal aid commissions and Indigenous legal services to help people who cannot afford a lawyer. Over 80% of the people they help receive under $26,000 a year in income. These are people who do not qualify for legal aid and seeking help with civil and family law issues, such as evictions, tenancy, debts, family violence, dismissals and employment issues and relationship breakdown.”
Australian Government legal aid funding per capita has fallen by about 22 per cent in real terms since 1997. The National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) has called for an immediate increase in investment in community legal centres.
To download a copy of the survey report, go to: http://www.acoss.org.au/media/release/nations_legal_services_reaching_homeless_service_crisis_levels_acoss_report.
On 1 July 2012, the Commonwealth introduced a new disbursement support scheme for Commonwealth, non-criminal law matters. The scheme is not available in state or territory or overseas legal matters. Assistance will not generally be granted to persons who can meet their overall legal costs without incurring serious financial difficulty or where legal aid is available but will be available in pro bono matters.
The scheme will reimburse such costs as counsel’s opinion on the merits, fees for expert reports in litigation, expert witness fees, travel and accommodation costs associated with pro bono legal work, court transcripts, interpreters fees provided an application for approval is made before the costs are incurred.
To apply for assistance under the disbursement support scheme, total disbursement costs must be $500 or more. There are maximum allowable amounts for certain disbursement items, such as expert medical reports, interpreter costs, document searches etc. and certain fees are specifically excluded such as counsel’s representation/appearance fees, court filing fees or the cost of a report from an anthropologist.
Application Forms and further details are available on the A-G’s website here.
The disbursement support scheme is one of many that are administered under new guidelines from 1 July 2012: the Commonwealth Guidelines for Legal Financial Assistance 2012.
In a paper delivered to the Public Sector In-House Counsel Conference 2012 held in Canberra on 30-31 July, Centre Director, John Corker explores the reasons for the slow uptake of pro bono by government lawyers and suggests actions that government agencies, departments and authorities, and individual lawyers within them, can take to play a greater part in the professional society of pro bono lawyers in Australia.
Acknowledging that both practical and cultural constraints exist, the paper provides examples of government lawyers doing pro bono legal work, as individuals and as part of an agency’s program, discusses the constraints, and the particular situation for government lawyers in the ACT.
The paper suggests that government agencies should see pro bono as an essential part of their lawyer’s professional development and provide formal encouragement and support through their employment policies. A full copy of the paper is available here.
One year on from the release of the Centre’s paper, Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Planning for the Legal Profession in Australia, almost all states and territories have developed or are in the process of developing their own legal assistance response plan.
The paper, which was endorsed by the Law Council of Australia and released in June 2011, recommended that the legal community in each state and territory should develop a legal assistance response plan and included a practical guide to the development of that plan. The Centre sought an update on what steps (if any) have been taken in each jurisdiction to develop a disaster response plan since the release of the paper.
Following the release of the paper, the New South Wales Legal Assistance Forum (NLAF) formed a working group in November 2011 with these objectives:
The working group has now developed the briefing paper and checklist and is exploring ways to advocate for formal recognition of legal assistance in both the NSW and Commonwealth emergency and disaster arrangements.
NLAF’s Project Manager, Judith Levitan, said “The NLAF working group found the paper very useful for the preparation of the briefing paper and checklist…The Paper’s analysis of the National Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements (NDRRA) assisted in informing NLAF of the resource implications of responding to a disaster”.
The paper was formally adopted in the preparation of South Australia’s plan, which was formulated at the urging of the then Director of the Legal Services Commission, Hamish Gilmore. A Disaster Response Committee was formed, including representatives of the Legal Services Commission, South Australian Attorney-General’s Department, JusticeNet SA, the Central Community Legal Service and the Law Society of South Australia. The committee has developed an Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Plan for use in SA which has been endorsed by the members of the South Australian Legal Assistance Forum. Some of the preparedness measures already undertaken in SA include:
The ACT Legal Assistance Forum held a briefing on 28 June 2012 on the Emergency Legal Assistance Response Plan for the ACT that it developed with reference to the paper. The plan has been developed with regard to the ACT Community Recovery Plan (2007) and describes how the ACT legal sector will resource and coordinate between participating organisations the provision of:
It establishes an Emergency Legal Response Group which will coordinate arrangements for the delivery of emergency legal services under the banner of “ACT Emergency Legal Help (ACTELH)”.
The ACT Legal Disaster Plan is due to be launched on 11 September 2012.
Chief Executive Officer of the Law Society Northern Territory, Megan Lawton, indicated that the planning process is underway in the NT and said “The paper was very useful. It set out in a very practical way forward for a small jurisdiction such as the NT and how to go about considering the types of disaster and risks and putting in place a plan. It is not something that the Society will have fully implemented for a number of years however it is in train and I very much appreciate the development of the tool. I could not have imagined commencing on this path without the paper to guide the process”.
Director of Civil Law, Legal Aid WA, Justin Stevenson, indicated that in Western Australia development of a plan has been initiated and will draw on the briefing paper and checklist that NLAF has developed.
Victoria with its extensive experience of disaster response, following the bushfires in that State and the Bushfire Legal Help report, has developed its own plan. Project Officer at the Victorian Legal Assistance Forum (VLAF), Simon Roberts, confirmed that it developed a plan without reference to the Paper.
Given its recent experience of responding to the legal needs arising in the aftermath of the floods in Queensland, the legal profession in that State has a wealth of knowledge about disaster response, but is following the lead of the Department of Justice and Attorney General in that State. The Centre has been unable to contact the Department to ascertain what progress has been made towards the development of a formal plan in Queensland.
A copy of the Centre’s paper, Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Planning for the Legal Profession in Australia can be downloaded here.
For the six months ended 30 June 2012, the 34 lawyers covered under the National Pro Bono PI Insurance Scheme indicated that they had done pro bono legal work during the past six months working out to an average of 14 hours of pro bono legal work per lawyer for that 6 month period (or 28 hours per lawyer p.a.). This is an improvement on the average reported in the previous 6 month period (which was 24 hours per lawyer p.a.).
For background see last year’s story on in-house corporate pro bono in the July 2011 edition of the National Pro Bono News. There are now eighteen (18) projects that have been approved under the scheme. For details of these projects see the PI Insurance Register. The Law Society Journal (NSW) ran a story in March 2012 on two in-house lawyers that have been taking advantage of the free PI insurance cover for them to provide pro bono legal work.
Your Guide to Dispute Resolution, the latest publication of the National Alternative Dispute Resolution Advisory Council (NADRAC), was launched by the Commonwealth Attorney General on 23 July 2012.
The Guide aims to raise public awareness of the availability and value of using alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to resolve disputes. It explains what ADR is, provides guidance on how to prevent, identify, manage and resolve disputes, including sections on dispute resolution processes ranging from prevention, facilitative, advisory and determinative ADR processes, to litigation in courts and tribunals. It provides practical information about how to prepare for ADR, questions to ask practitioners and where to obtain support.
The launch of this Guide follows the release by the Centre of a report in June which found that in the context of the increasing use of ADR as a way of resolving disputes, that lawyers need to be better equipped to assist people experiencing disadvantage. While acknowledging the view that ADR may not always be the best option for vulnerable and marginalised clients, the research found that one of the ways in which legal assistance can improve the ability of people experiencing disadvantage to effectively participate in ADR is by simply explaining the nature of the ADR process.
The NADRAC Guide is written in very accessible plain English, for example with facilitative, advisory and determinative ADR processes described as “Processes that help you”, “Processes that give you advice” and “Processes that make a decision”.
As well as being an accessible community legal education resource, it may also be useful to practitioners for informing their clients about the availability and value of using ADR to resolve disputes.
In launching the Guide, Attorney-General and Minister for Emergency Management Nicola Roxon said “I want the Davids, not just the Goliaths to have access to our legal system. Alternative dispute resolution opens up the doors of justice to all Australians…It is important that we raise awareness and educate people about alternative dispute resolution, so they know resolution of legal disputes is possible for everyone regardless of means”.
The Centre for Asia Pacific Pro Bono was launched by the Commonwealth Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, in Canberra on 16 July 2012. Administered by the Law Council of Australia, the Centre seeks to provide a single entry point for government and private bodies in the Asia-Pacific region to contact providers of pro bono legal services in Australia. Three projects were announced at the launch.
The first project was based on a request from Transparency Vanuatu’s Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre, which sought assistance regarding a legal case involving human rights. Pro bono legal services are being provided by lawyers from Ashurst Australia.
The second project was proposed by the Solicitor-General’s Office in Papua New Guinea for advocacy skills and professional ethics training for their lawyers. The Victorian Bar will lead a team of experts to Port Moresby in November to conduct the training.
The third project will see the provision of one-on-one capacity-building for Nauru’s Public Defender, coupled with an ongoing mentoring program. This assistance is being coordinated through DLA Piper’s pro bono team.
The CAPPB has disbursement assistance fund that can be used to reimburse travel and accommodation costs associated with undertaking pro bono work coordinated through the Centre. Firms interested in taking on pro bono projects in the Asia Pacific region should contact Karuna Garung at the CAPPB. For more detail see the CAPPB website.
Centre Director, John Corker talks to the PBEye blog of the Pro Bono Institute about why we do pro bono: because it’s the right thing to do! See 80 second video here.
The last financial year was a record year for the National Pro Bono Aspirational Target, with 23 new law firm signatories and 6 new individual solicitor signatories. This year looks like it will bring another flood of new signatories. Already, since our last newsletter on 10 July the Aspirational Target has attracted seven new signatories:
There are now 101 signatories to the Target. The Centre has been visiting a number of new signatory firms and talking to them about ways to develop their pro bono practice. If you want us to come and visit you, please contact John Corker on 02 9385 7371 or email [email protected].
If your firm employs more than 50 FTE lawyers you should have recently received an invitation to complete the 2012 National Law Firm Pro Bono Survey. This biennial survey charts the landscape of pro bono, with a report due to be produced later in the year – for copies of previous reports please refer to our website. We would like to see responses from firms at all levels of pro bono development – from firms who do no pro bono work at all to those with developed practices. Survey responses are due on MONDAY – if your firm did not receive an invitation, would like a paper version or you are having any other difficulties please contact Daniel Jacobs at [email protected] or on 02 9385 7381.
Reporting on the National Pro Bono Aspirational Target for the 2011/12 financial year is also due MONDAY – remember, while there is no requirement to meet the Target all signatories are required to report every year to stay on the Register. Reporting involves answering six questions, which can be completed online. Again, if you did not receive an invitation, would like a paper copy or are having any other difficulties please contact Daniel Jacobs at [email protected] or on 02 9385 7381.
Check out Social Justice Opportunities for information on finding a job or volunteering in the social justice sector. The website includes a ‘Latest Opportunities‘ section which provides a list of current jobs and volunteering opportunities around the country. Currently there are more than twenty positions listed.
Articles of interest to the pro bono community from July to August 2012. Click through to read any news article in full.
20 August 2012 – ABC News
10 August 2012 – Australian Financial Review
6 August 2012 – ABC News
6 August 2012 – 3AW
4 August 2012 – Commonwealth Attorney-General & Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy
4 August 2012 – Commonwealth Attorney-General
31 July 2012 – Lawyers Weekly
25 July 2012 – The New Lawyer
19 July 2012 – Maurice Blackburn
18 July 2012 – Lawyers Weekly
17 July 2012 – Sydney Morning Herald
16 July 2012 – The New Lawyer
15 July 2012 – Adelaide Now
20 August 2012 – The National Law Journal
6 August 2012 – Legal Week
12 July 2012 – The Pro Bono Institute
3 August 2012 – Legal Week