Report says families settling legal disputes faster with Early Intervention Service

The Family Law Early Intervention Service, which provides a legal aid duty lawyer at court registries in New South Wales, is helping more people settle family matters earlier, often outside of court, according to a report officially launched today by Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus QC.

The Family Law Early Intervention Service, which provides a legal aid duty lawyer at court registries in New South Wales, is helping more people settle family matters earlier, often outside of court, according to a report officially launched today by Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus QC.

"This report shows that early expert legal assistance at family courts plays an effective "triage" role, particularly for clients in a crisis," said Mr Dreyfus.

The evaluation showed that the new service delivered a 160% increase in the number of matters dealt with by a duty legal aid lawyer at Parramatta Family Court.

"This report shows the Australian Government’s focus on investing in early legal help is paying off for vulnerable clients and for the courts," said Mr Dreyfus, who launched the report in Parramatta at the Legal Aid NSW office with the Member for Parramatta Julie Owens.

"This Commonwealth-funded service is succeeding in de-escalating proceedings between parties. Most importantly, the service is dealing expertly with clients in crisis with complex legal problems such as child custody disputes."

The Family Law Early Intervention Service commenced in 2011, providing short, sharp and timely intervention for disadvantaged families at the Sydney, Parramatta and Newcastle Family Court registries.

"Family law matters are among the most difficult and distressing for people to deal with. I’m very pleased that in nearly 40% of matters, people who should not have been going to court were assisted in taking more effective and appropriate action," Mr Dreyfus said.

"Often people who have a dispute do not need to be in court at all or need simple direct help with paperwork and procedures."

The service is funded as part of a National Partnership Agreement to increase preventative and early intervention legal services for disadvantaged people, under which the Gillard Government has boosted legal assistance funding since 2010 by $154 million.

The independent evaluation of the Family Law Early Intervention Service was undertaken by the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW.