National Legal Assistance Data Standards

What are the National Legal Assistance Data Standards?

The National Legal Assistance Data Standards are a set of standardised legal service data items, counting rules and collection protocols relevant to the legal assistance sector – community legal centres, legal aid commissions, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, and Family Violence Prevention Legal Services.

The Standards were developed over a number of years and first published in 2015 in the National Legal Assistance Data Standards Manual

What is the National Data Standards Working Group?

The National Data Standards Working Group is convened by the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department and consists of representatives of the four main legal assistance sector – legal aid commissions, community legal centres, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services and Family Violence Prevention Legal Services – as well as the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department and other government departments and agencies as required like the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The purpose of the Working Group is to discuss and agree on a common data set for legal services.

Why were the National Data Standards developed?

The need for common data items and definitions across legal assistance services was identified by the Productivity Commission during their Inquiry into Access to Justice which commenced in 2013.

In the final Access to Justice Report (2014), the Productivity Commission found the following:

“Those who seek to use data to better understand the workings of the civil [ie non-criminal] justice system are hindered by:

  • definitions and measures that are inconsistent
  • data that are reported at a level that is too general to prove valuable
  • outcomes that are poorly captured
  • some cases of incomplete data.

Those responsible for collecting and reporting data also face constraints, including:

  • management systems that inadequately collect and store data
  • data collection ‘fatigue’ and a lack of resources to collect useful data.” (p 882)

As a side note, the Productivity Commission was particularly scathing (p 887) about the poor quality of community legal centre data available from the Community Legal Service Information System (CLSIS).

The Productivity Commission therefore recommended the immediate commencement of reform in the collection and reporting of data, including through adopting common definitions, measures and collection protocols, and redesigning CLSIS to collect more useful information (Recommendation 25.2).

Why do legal assistance providers have to comply with the Standards?

Community legal centres and family violence legal service providers are required to comply with the data definitions contained in the National Legal Assistance Data Standards Manual through a few different mechanisms.

For community legal centres, the National Partnership Agreement for Legal Assistance Services 2015-2020 requires state and territory governments to report to the Commonwealth Government about certain services as defined by the Data Standards Manual (see clause 53).  State and territory government funding agreements with individual community legal centres then bring in this reporting requirement as a condition of funding.  

Family Violence Prevention Legal Services are required to comply with the Data Standards Manual in their individual funding agreements with the National Indigenous Australians Agency.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services are required to comply with the Data Standards Manual in their individual funding agreements with the Attorney-General’s Department.

What is the relationship between the National Data Standards, CLASS, and this Data Consistency Guide?

In June 2015, as recommended by the Productivity Commission, the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department provided funding to Community Legal Centres Australia for the redevelopment of CLSIS. The funding agreement with CLCs Australia required that the new system be built using the data items and definitions in the Data Standards Manual, in order to support reporting requirements set out in the National Partnership Agreement (as discussed above). CLASS is the client management system that replaced CLSIS.

CLCs Australia rolled out CLASS in March 2017. Initial training about the new data definitions was based solely on the Data Standards Manual. It became apparent over the course of the next 12 months that the Manual was far too high level to provide useful guidance at a practice level to Centres that were struggling particularly with the new data items Legal Tasks and the Representation Services.  Centres applied their own interpretations, resulting in further inconsistency between centres.

It was due to these concerns about inconsistency that CLCs Australia sought, and in June 2018 received, funding from the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department and Legal Aid NSW to commence the Data Consistency Project, leading to the development of this Guide.