ATSILS (QLD) has had to make the difficult decision to temporarily suspend some services in a number of regions. Chronic underfunding has left us with little choice as it is having a major impact on our ability to meet the rising demand for our services, creating a range of WHS concerns and undermining our recruitment and retention initiatives. Cairns, Townsville, Mt Isa, Maroochydore and Ipswich (Richlands).
Currently, we have temporary service suspensions in place for:
Previous Suspensions (since lifted):
ATSILS is doing all it can to keep these temporary service reductions to a minimum and to ensure they don’t become permanent. In response to these challenges which are being felt across the country, we have joined with ATSILS in other states in a national campaign to call on the Federal Government to increase funding to levels. We need a funding model that is more commensurate with the ever-rising demand for our services, and that enables us to achieve more wage parity with other legal assistance service providers. In addition, ATSILS has submitted applications to the Queensland Government for more state-based funding to ensure vulnerable communities have equal access to justice and to help overcome the current service challenges that historically, are unprecedented. With respect to state-based funding, we’re advised that it is unlikely that there will be a response from Queensland Treasury until mid-July, 2023. To that end, we provided an undertaking that we would do our best to avoid making any permanent cuts to services until that date.
Our push for additional funding has two aims –
- To fund additional staff to better meet demand & create more manageable workloads across workforce hotspots.
- To create a more competitive salary structure to increase retention and enhance the attraction of suitable recruits.
Other regional offices could also face temporary suspension of services in the near future and we will advise our communities and stakeholders accordingly. To date, the commitment of our workforce to going above and beyond for the communities they serve has prevented this from occurring in other regions. As demand for services continues to rise, however, more reductions in service scope will be unavoidable without appropriate funding intervention. The situation is being monitored daily and it should be noted that our staff are holding on by their fingernails in the hope of additional funding come July.
Due to funding impacts on our workforce levels, ATSILS (QLD) has had to implement 3 rounds of temporary service suspensions throughout the Cairns region.
- Round 1: 19/09/2022 – 03/10/2022 – Representation of new arrest matters (adults only) suspended in the Cairns Magistrates Court.
- Round 2: 13/03/2023 – client matters headed to superior courts referred to alternate providers.
- Round 3: 24/04/2023 – No duty lawyer services available at Atherton, Innisfail & Mareeba Magistrates Courts. In addition, representation services at Mareeba Magistrates Court will not be available for matters commencing in the period of service suspension (i.e. contested hearings and long pleas)
In relation to clients with matters which ATSILS are currently on record, it is intended that ATSILS will maintain carriage of those matters, or if client instructs, transfer those matters to other service providers. These suspensions under constant review however are expected to be in place until the 30th of June 2023.
Due to funding impacts on our workforce levels, ATSILS has had to implement temporary service suspensions throughout the Townsville region.
- Adult Duty Lawyer Services in the Townsville Magistrates Court have been temporarily suspended as of 20/09/2022 (this does not include the regional courts). This service suspension is in place until 30th June 2023 or until current workforce challenges have been overcome.
- Services at Tully Magistrates Court have been suspended as of 24/04/2023 (existing clients will continue to be assisted).
ATSILS is working tirelessly to limit the timeframe and impact of these service suspensions on communities. These suspensions are under constant review however are expected to be in place until the 30th of June 2023.
Due to the crippling demand for services in our Brisbane headquarters, ATSILS has had to temporarily suspend Traffic Court Assistances. This suspension has been in place since the 7th of February 2023. This suspension is under constant review however is expected to remain in place until 30th June 2023.
Sunshine Coast Region
A temporary suspension of service that includes appearing for fresh arrests in a duty lawyer capacity will commence in the Sunshine Coast region as of Monday, May 15th, 2023 – this service suspension will be for those persons held at the Maroochydore and Caboolture watchhouses and who are to appear before the said Courts between Monday to Friday inclusive.
Unlike other suspensions – these were necessary despite a full allocation of the allotted staffing profile. In short, even when fully staffed, the workload has grown to an unmanageable volume.
Mount Isa Region
As of the 30th May temporary service suspensions were put in place in relation to all criminal law matters for adults in Mount Isa itself – other than for existing files. We continue to service children and circuits courts etc.
These suspensions are expected to be in place until the end of July at this juncture – (to be revisited earlier dependent on the success of current recruitment initiatives to fill current vacancies). Legal Aid Queensland has been assisting to fill the void by transferring staff. We have also temporarily transferred a staff member from another of our offices to Mount Isa to assist.
Regrettably, ATSILS Ipswich Office will be temporarily suspending services at Richlands Magistrates Court for all new in custody matters, adult duty lawyer and Saturday Court (we will still undertake in-custody matters for existing clients). This will come into effect as of Monday, 29 May 2023. Staff will still conduct services for Childrens Court matters on Thursday, including ongoing matters and duty lawyer services. Our office will continue to act for all current ongoing matters and staff will also appear in the Murri Court. For the Murri Court, our Ipswich Regional Office will continue to accept referrals.
At this stage, the temporary suspension of services will be until 31 July, however, this will be subject to review. It will be brought forward if a replacement staff can be recruited and onboarded sooner than anticipated, however, the suspension period could also be extended if recruitment takes longer.
Prior Suspensions – (since lifted)
For two months in the last quarter of 2022, our Strathpine office (due to an unfilled resignation), had to suspend services for all fresh arrest matters. As it was, the one remaining lawyer had to juggle service commitments to three separate court locations: Strathpine, Sandgate and Redcliffe. After the successful recruitment of another criminal lawyer the Strathpine office was able to end the suspension of service and is now able to provide assistance subject to availability.
Due to staffing shortages, our Beenleigh office had to suspend Duty Lawyer services for adults (not in custody) for a two-week period in December 2022.
Undoubtedly other regional offices, based upon workloads, could have also temporarily suspended services; but largely due to their commitment to service, were loath to do so. Our staff are holding on by their fingernails in the hope of additional funding come July.