Territory Stories

Annual Report 2020-2021, Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission



Annual Report 2020-2021, Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission

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Tabled Paper 433


Tabled Papers for 14th Assembly 2020 -; Tabled Papers; ParliamentNT




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n o rth e rn te rrito ry le g a l a id c o m m issio n a n n u a l re p o rt 2 0 2 0 /2 1 0 0 1 Youth Justice continues to be an area of great concern. We opposed the reforms to the bail legislation which the Government passed in May 2021. The number of children in detention is far too high and it is our view that these unacceptable numbers will only increase. We continue to have real concerns about the conditions in which children and young people are kept in detention and we have worked with the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency to raise our concerns with the Acting Childrens Commissioner, as well as senior representatives of government, including at Ministerial level. Over the years I have been dismayed at the increasing incarceration of our First Nations people and the inability of us, who work in the justice system, to be able to have any positive or discernable impact on incarceration numbers. It is with guarded optimism that I welcome the Aboriginal Justice Agreement (AJA), to which I hope many people will add their signatures early in the 2021-22 year. I say guarded because for the AJA to succeed it will require dedicated and realistic funding and resourcing. The AJA acknowledges that the appalling rates of incarceration of First Nations people is harmful and unsustainable. We welcome the promise in the Agreement to engage and support Aboriginal Leadership, together with the commitment to challenging systemic racism within the justice system. In my many years as a lawyer in the NT criminal justice system the AJA is the most positive development to date. It will, however, require ongoing support and commitment by ensuing NT governments for it to succeed. The Board and staff of the Commission thank Russell Goldflam for representing the Commission on the AJA Committee and we congratulate all those who worked on the draft AJA. We have had a changing of the guard this year with the departure of Ian Read SC after almost 20 years with the Commission. Ian We partnered with Danila Dilba to develop the Legal Health Mob, an integrated service through which we have colocated one of our family lawyers at Danila Dilba to work with an Indigenous Client Services officer to improve access to legal services for First Nations people in the greater Darwin region. This is a 12 month project adopting a unique approach and is already increasing the connection which this vulnerable group has to legal help. A financial counselling service for clients who are experiencing domestic and family violence. We employed a financial counsellor to establish this service. It is early days but the uptake has clearly shown that this was an unmet need in our previous service provision. A project officer to work for 12 months to develop a Family Violence Safer Effective Practice for the whole of NTLAC to ensure that our services are responsive to the needs of people experiencing domestic and family violence. We introduced a chat function to the NTLAC and DVLS website to trial and explore the enhanced access that may be provided to people experiencing domestic and family violence. We acknowledge the support of the NT Government for our utilization of this Federal funding for these initiatives. We remain very lucky in the NT to have been free from the direct impacts of COVID that have been experienced in other Australian states and territories. We have had short periods of lock down and have managed to continue to provide our legal services. We are very pleased to see that the vaccination rate in the NT is high and we have encouraged our staff to be vaccinated. We are, of course, on the front line with vulnerable clients in the communities and the prisons. We remain resilient and prepared for the challenges which we are likely to face as the country prepares to live with COVID into the future.

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