New Law Society President calls for more lawyers to help children in crisis
The legal profession can play a greater part in keeping vulnerable families together by boosting the number of solicitors able to take on cases involving children in the care and protection and criminal justice systems.
This year’s President of the Law Society of NSW, Cassandra Banks, has marked the Opening of the 2023 Law Term by outlining her priorities, including a more effective care and protection system and nominating a charity committed to helping at-risk and vulnerable children for the Law Society to support.
Ms Banks begins her term as President of the Law Society of NSW after practising law in Coffs Harbour since she was admitted to the Supreme Court in 2010.
To serve as President of Australia’s largest legal membership organisation, Ms Banks is taking 12 months away from running a busy three-lawyer practice where she focused on family law and children’s law and was the Co-President of the Clarence River & Coffs Harbour Regional Law Society.
“NSW currently has almost 16,000 children in out-0f-home care and more than 100,000 children assessed at risk of significant harm [ROSH] every year. There are simply not enough lawyers handling the legal work necessary to help these children have a better chance at life,” Ms Banks said.
“Each parent and child may require separate legal representation, as does the Department of Communities and Justice [DCJ]. The burden of most of this work falls on relatively few lawyers, especially in regional areas. A care and protection case can be incredibly complex; however, this is an area of law that can be deeply rewarding, working with vulnerable children and families.”
“Of the 186 lawyers in my region, only nine, including me, practise regularly in the children’s care and protection system. These can be complicated matters, so the Law Society is committed to providing opportunities for practitioners of all experience levels to learn more about children’s law,” Ms Banks said.
“This includes practitioners who would like to become an Accredited Specialist in Children’s Law. This area of specialisation is offered only once every three years, so I encourage solicitors whose practices involve at least 25 per cent of children’s law work to consider applying for the program before the end of March 2023.”
Gaining specialist accreditation is a significant achievement which offers practitioners a recognised means of differentiation and demonstrated expertise in their area of practice.
Supporting disadvantaged and at-risk young people to thrive is also at the centre of Ms Banks’ President’s Charity for 2023, the Tracker Network.
“The network began with the highly effective BackTrack program which started in Armidale in 2006, helping disengaged and at-risk young people to develop life and work skills to build a better future for themselves and their communities,” she said.
Ms Banks’ President’s Priorities for 2023 are:
- Focussing on the health and wellbeing of the NSW legal profession.
- Strengthening the modern legal profession, including gender equity for career advancement;
- Improving funding for solicitors providing legal assistance services, including through Legal Aid NSW;
- Promoting opportunities in rural, regional and remote legal practice
- Building awareness of the importance of legal practitioners in the children and young person’s care and protection system and;
- Advocating for increased diversion for vulnerable cohorts within the criminal justice system.
“Some of these priorities were also championed by my predecessor as President, Joanne van der Plaat, to whom I express the profession’s gratitude for her leadership and dedication to improving the NSW justice system,” Ms Banks said.
“I’m also grateful for the honour of serving NSW’s 38,000 solicitors as President of the Law Society of NSW. I look forward to working with the Law Society Council to help our members and in maintaining the professional integrity of the NSW legal profession through the Law Society’s role as a co-regulator.”
Ms Banks expressed her thanks to legal stakeholders ranging from the Chief Justice of NSW and other heads of jurisdiction to the Attorney General and officers in DCJ for the consistently positive and constructive relationships they have maintained with the Law Society.
“These relationships are crucial to the Law Society’s effectiveness in representing the profession, both in its advocacy on policy matters touching on a broad range of legal issues, to ensuring the machinery of our courts and tribunals remain fit for purpose,” Ms Banks said.
“As we head into a State election year, I very much appreciate the opportunity to have again placed on the public record, the need for increased and ongoing resources for our courts, including more judicial officers and modern digital infrastructure, to tackle the enormous volume of cases, particularly in the Local Court of NSW and the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.”
Ms Banks encouraged NSW political leaders to read and respond to the Law Society’s 2023 State Election Platform which outlines proposals aimed towards making NSW a fairer, safer community.