Thanks to our members who responded to the recent survey around the future of the Client Assessment and Referral Section (CARS).
The response was overwhelming it its support for the CARS service currently being provided. The feedback provided is invaluable in supporting the representations the PSA is making to the CEO. The question now is whether the concerns and submissions of Legal Aid staff will be valued, considered and responded to, or will Legal Aid ignore the valid concerns of its staff.
Some highlights include:
- 82 per cent of respondents who had used the service found the report helpful in sentencing proceedings
- 63 per cent of respondents believe the conduct of their practice would change if the reports were not available.
The results contained a number of invaluable comments and submissions in regards to the situations that the reports were helpful, the circumstances when one might be used, the alternatives (or lack thereof) that would be used if the service was no longer available, and how the courts view the reports. Some de-identified feedback includes:
- The report writers fact check information provided by clients with family members, medical practitioners and others. The reports address mitigating factors relevant to sentence. The report writers research issues relevant to the particular client such as Aboriginal clients who have been raised in disadvantaged locations and clients raised in out of home care. Magistrate/s and Judges often comment on the usefulness of these reports.
- CARS reports always do a deep dive in ways that paid psychiatric and psychological reports do not. CARS report writers routinely speak at length with various stakeholders for the offender and the reports are invariably comprehensive and well-received. They make a REAL difference for the outcomes of Legally Aided clients!
- They fill in a gap that is not provided by other reports, often providing evidence based observations as to how behaviour and thinking has emerged from a client’s background. The reports provide context to offending and a path to recovery.
- Many District Court Judges have commented on how useful the CARS reports are and many have said they are much better than a psychological report, particularly when there is a case plan developed and the report has referenced a variety of sources for the information.
- This service…is filled with compassionate people that go above and beyond and I cannot imagine what working…would be like, if not for CARS. It provides a really brilliant low cost service and it is unimaginable that we could lose that, to pay money for much less helpful reports.
- Both casework and report options would be beneficial to clients.
Overall the PSA received hundreds of valuable comments and feedback,. We are working through these now to de-identify and submit to Legal Aid for them to consider further. The PSA wrote to Legal Aid on 8 September to note our concerns and request a pause to the rollout of the reorganisation to allow full consideration of all the issues raised. To date no response has been received.