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Access to Legal Services

3 May 2023

No 270

In reply to the The Hon. R.A. Simms MLC (3 May 2023).

1. What is the government doing to support people living with disability when navigating the legal system?

2. Will the government implement the recommendation from the South Australian Law Reform Institute's report titled 'Providing a Voice to the Vulnerable: A Study of Communication Assistance in South Australia' that called on the government to provide a publicly funded service to be available to people with complex communication needs when interacting with the justice system?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector):

I have been advised:

1. My department provides National Legal Assistance Partnership 2020-25 (NLAP) funding to the Legal Services Commission of South Australia, the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement and community legal centres for the provision of legal assistance services to key cohorts identified as national priority client groups under the NLAP, which includes people with a disability or mental illness.

Specifically, the department provides (non-exhaustive):

NLAP funding to Uniting Communities Law Centre to deliver the Welfare Rights Service, which provides legal advice and representation to clients with social security matters, including those in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). This includes matters relating to the disability support pension.

State funding to LSC to deliver the Disability Information and Legal Assistance (DILA) unit. The DILA unit provides specialist information and legal advice for South Australians with disability, including those with cognitive or mental impairment, their carers and advocates.

In addition to the services funded by the department, Uniting Communities receives state funding from the Department of Human Services to deliver the Disability Advocacy Service. The Disability Advocacy Service provides education and assistance to people trying to access the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) system or who are seeking reviews of their NDIS plans. The service also assists with appeals lodged in the AAT regarding a NDIS decision, or in the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal regarding a guardianship order.

Further, there are several initiatives in place to support people with disability and complex communication needs to navigate and engage with the justice system. They include (non-exhaustive):

Vulnerable witness provisions are available to specified people, including people with a mental disability, to help make the experience of giving evidence in court less stressful. This could include giving evidence from a separate room (including via closed-circuit TV—CCTV), having a court support volunteer present or having a canine court companion to accompany the witness while giving evidence.

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions' Witness Assistance Officers and Victim Support Services' volunteer Court Companions are available to provide trauma-informed support for victims who may need assistance to participate in the prosecution process, including those with a disability. This may also involve assisting victims to understand information about legal rights and processes and providing practical support so that they can participate in the criminal justice system to the best of their ability and can access appropriate community-based support services.

Canine Court Companions are also available to reduce the stress and anxiety of vulnerable victims and prosecution witnesses. Court Companions is a joint initiative between the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and Guide Dogs SA/NT.

2. Ensuring that people with complex communication needs can access the justice system is of the utmost importance to the government and is an ongoing consideration.

The communication partner service is currently provided by qualified communication specialists whereby a person with complex communication needs is entitled to receive communication assistance for support with speech, language and communication needs to facilitate communication with the justice system, including police, criminal defence lawyers, courts or prosecution services.

The government will continue to monitor the impact of the available range of communication assistance strategies to ensure they are operating as effectively as possible.