AGS continues to lead the way in the provision of pro bono services by government lawyers. In 2011–12 we provided 4,157 hours of pro bono legal work to the community, valued at over $1.2m. Approximately 25% of AGS lawyers undertook some form of pro bono work.
As a government-owned business and statutory authority, AGS can only undertake pro bono work that involves acting for a person or body for whom AGS can act in accordance with its functions and powers under the Judiciary Act 1903. AGS does not undertake pro bono work in any matter against a Commonwealth agency or where there is an unacceptable potential for conflict of interest for government clients.
Working with Indigenous corporations
In 2011–12, AGS continued with its involvement with LawHelp, an initiative developed by AGS and the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations to match up pro bono providers with not-for-profit corporations registered under the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006.
Since its commencement in 2010, LawHelp has successfully referred numerous matters to pro bono lawyers (2 matters are currently pending), with AGS taking a number of those referrals. AGS has provided pro bono legal advice to Indigenous corporations in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, the Northern Territory and Western Australia.
New National Manager for AGS Pro Bono Services, Geetha Nair, continues AGS's key role as a member of the LawHelp Assessment Panel which considers applications for assistance.
Supporting community legal centres and pro bono clearing houses AGS continued its partnership with the Darwin Community Legal Service in the management of the Credit and Debt Legal Service, including the provision of lawyers on secondment. The Credit and Debt Legal Service is the Northern Territory's only specialist provider of free legal advice for people affected by debt or credit problems including issues with mortgages and repossessions, loans or credit cards, unsecured loans, credit reporting or any other debt or credit legal problem, and in recognition of the social problems arising out of credit and debt matters.
AGS also continued its successful secondment program, assisting a range of community legal centres and pro bono clearing houses across Australia by supplementing their resources with AGS lawyers. During the year, AGS lawyers worked with the Public Interest Law Clearing House in Victoria, NSW, and Queensland; the Arts Law Centre of Australia; JusticeNet SA; the Employment Law Centre of WA; Street Law; and the ACT Pro Bono Clearing House. AGS also commenced a secondment with the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency in Darwin this year, to assist with drafting fact sheets providing advice and information on issues of importance to their clients.
AGS also worked with Welfare Rights in the ACT to provide training on information access as well as drafting some fact sheets for their website on various issues relevant to their clients, including a fact sheet on tenancy issues, particularly for tenants in public housing. AGS also provided drafting assistance to the Fred Hollows Foundation to update and consolidate some of their agreement templates.
In conjunction with the Arts Law Centre of Australia, AGS provided free training to their clients on the Personal Property Securities Act 2009, and assisted by updating some of its agreement templates to ensure they complied with the requirements of that Act.
AGS staff also participated in the annual Walk for Justice in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney to show support for access to justice initiatives.
Pro bono work in the Asia–Pacific
AGS continued to build on its relationship with the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Department of Justice and Attorney-General as its major international initiative. In November 2011 and April 2012, a number of AGS lawyers presented pro bono legal training in Port Moresby to PNG government lawyers working in the State Solicitor's Office and the Office of the Solicitor-General.
Four courses were presented to more than 100 participants – Understanding Legislation, Train the Trainer, and extended versions of the Advice Writing and Statutory Interpretation courses as well as a course on Commercial Advising. AGS was recognised with the short listing of Counsel Catherine Langman as a finalist in the Australian Lawyers Weekly Pro Bono award, for her work in the legal training undertaken in PNG.
In August 2011, AGS offices in Sydney and Canberra hosted a delegation from the PNG Solicitor General's office on a study tour. The primary aim of the tour was to give the delegation a better understanding of how alternative dispute resolution is used by the Australian Government and to assist them to develop strategies to increase its uptake in PNG. AGS has also provided a 3-month placement to a lawyer from the PNG Office of the Solicitor General to work within AGS Dispute Resolution in Canberra.
In November 2011 AGS provided a series of training courses in Honiara in the Solomon Islands to government officers from the Correctional Service, Ministry of Police and Ministry of Justice. Training was done in collaboration with the Regional Assistance Mission Solomon Island initiative and covered procurement, tender evaluation, contract management and contract law.
This is an extract from the 2011–12 AGS annual report