Geesche Jacobsen | SMH | 17 September 2011
THE chief executive of the NSW Legal Aid Commission, Alan Kirkland, has left his position days after a Herald report into a staff survey showing high levels of stress.
It is understood Mr Kirkland, 39, was called into a meeting with the Attorney-General, Greg Smith, on Wednesday and he announced his departure to staff and the board yesterday.
In a message to staff he said he was sorry to be leaving: ''This is the best job I've ever had - and I continue to think that.''
The survey into staff wellbeing, highlighting issues which had already emerged in two previous surveys in 2008 and 2009, was believed to have been just one factor in his demise.
Another was a controversial restructure of Legal Aid NSW, which led to disquiet among its board. A government review of this restructure is believed to have been critical of its objectives and implementation.
Under the restructure, the commission has increasingly focused on policy work, while solicitors appearing in courts reported stress, sleeplessness and time pressures.
Mr Smith said in a statement yesterday: ''Legal Aid NSW's principal function should be to provide people involved in criminal law and family law proceedings with access to affordable representation. In future, the Attorney-General would like to see Legal Aid NSW focusing on supporting its clients and staff to ensure its functions are delivered appropriately.''
It is believed the government will appoint a temporary chief executive from within the department of Attorney-General and Justice, and hopes to fill the position before the end of the year.
Mr Kirkland, was a former director of the NSW Council of Social Services, worked for the Australian Law Reform Commission and was a co-convener of the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby. He is a long-standing Labor supporter, but his politics are understood to have played little or no part in his departure.
Staff were understood to have been shocked by Mr Kirkland's departure. A statement issued on behalf of senior management praised his work for increasing the agency's budget and his commitment to young people, Aborigines and the disadvantaged.
''Alan is an exceptional manager who understood the business of Legal Aid NSW … and he will be greatly missed,'' the statement said.