Legal Aid WA Commissioners
Under the Legal Aid Commission Act 1976 (WA), the Legal Aid Commission of Western Australia consists of:
- a Chairperson, who is a lawyer with at least seven years’ experience and is nominated by the State Attorney General
- the Director of Legal Aid WA
- four members, who are nominated by the State Attorney General, where:
- two are lawyers recommended by the Law Society of Western Australia, and
- another has administrative experience at a senior level, but is not a lawyer,
- one member, who is not a lawyer and is nominated by the State Minister responsible for consumer protection, and
- two members nominated by the Commonwealth Attorney-General.
All members of the Commission are appointed by the Governor of Western Australia.
The Commission meets each month. You can read the profiles of our current Commissioners below. Information about previous members of the Commission can be found by reading through our annual reports.
Hon. Jane Crisford SC – Chair (appointed July 2017)
Jane Crisford is the first female Chair of the Legal Aid Commission of Western Australia. The Governor of Western Australia appointed Jane as Chair in July 2017.
Under Jane's leadership, Legal Aid WA envisions a future where all Western Australians benefit from the protection of the law regardless of poverty or disadvantage. She has focused on increasing Legal Aid WA's core services of representation, advice and information, whilst also enabling the launch of innovative new services through advanced technologies. Jane has established a strategic direction for Legal Aid WA that centres on making Western Australia a fairer, safer, and more inclusive community. Jane has extensive experience in civil, criminal, and family law, and comes to the Commission as a highly respected practitioner and former member of the judiciary.
Jane studied law at UWA and was admitted to practice in 1978. She worked at the then Crown Law Department and later at Parker & Parker, before becoming an establishing partner at Key & Crisford, which was one of the first all-female legal partnerships in WA. In 1984 she joined the Aboriginal Legal Service of WA as the solicitor-in-charge of its West Kimberley Office and was later solicitor-in-charge of the East Kimberly Office in Kununurra. She was counsel representing Aboriginal families in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. In 1991 she joined Dwyer Durack where she became an accredited family law specialist and later a partner.
Jane joined the independent bar in 1998 and was appointed senior counsel in 2002. She was appointed President of the Equal Opportunity Commission in 2003 and served as a Judge of the Family Court of WA and Family Court of Australia from 2006, until her retirement in 2016. She has previously held a number of voluntary positions, including as a member of the Chief Justice’s Indigenous Committee, Women Lawyers of WA, the Law Society of WA, Legal Practice Board, WA Bar Association and the Australian Association of Women Judges.
Helen De Brito - Director of Legal Aid WA (appointed May 2023)
Helen started her career at Legal Aid WA in 2005 and has practised predominantly in criminal law. In 2011 Helen was appointed Acting Solicitor in Charge of the Fremantle office, before going on to manage the Legal Practice Development Division and the Criminal Law Division. Helen was also responsible for establishing Legal Aid WA’s Virtual Office service in 2019. Helen is strongly committed to improving service delivery and delivering positive outcomes for Legal Aid WA’s clients. She is passionate about resilience and wellness in the legal profession, regional service delivery, and the development and mentoring of staff. Helen is a long standing member of Legal Aid WA’s Reconciliation Action Plan Committee, has managed the Graduate Program and the Country Lawyers' Program.
Most recently as the Director of the Criminal Law Division, Helen has been instrumental in maintaining criminal law services during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, including establishing duty lawyer hubs. In 2022, the Institute of Public Administration Australia awarded the duty lawyer hubs as Best Practice in Innovation.
Helen has a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Laws from Murdoch University, achieving First Class Honours in Law.
Steve Toutountzis - Member (appointed January 2018 - nominated by the State Attorney General)
Steve has been in the State Public Service for over 30 years and a member of the Senior Executive Service for over 12 years. His most recent senior position was that of Director of Performance and Evaluation – Group 1, with the Strategic Policy and Evaluation Business Unit of the Department of Treasury. His responsibilities included analysis and strategic advice to government on budgetary and financial management issues impacting Health, Social Services and Transport Portfolios.
Other senior public service positions have included Chief Financial Officer of the former Department of Treasury and Finance and Director of Business Analysis Department of Health. Steve holds a Bachelor of Business from Edith Cowan University and is a Certified Practising Accountant. He is currently also a member of the North Metropolitan Health Service Board and chairs the Finance Committee.
Elspeth Hensler - Member (appointed May 2018 - nominated by the Law Society of WA)
Elspeth Hensler is a barrister at Francis Burt Chambers, practicing in commercial matters including banking, corporate, insolvency, revenue, mining, construction, and succession matters.
Elspeth is a former Chair of the WA Legal Assistance Forum and former President of Australia Women Lawyers and Women Lawyers of WA. She was a member of the steering committee that produced the 20th Anniversary Review of the Chief Justice’s 1994 Gender Bias Taskforce Report. She also authored the private residential tenancy and social housing residential tenancy sections of the Lawyer’s Practice Manual WA.
In 2014, Elspeth was presented with the Attorney General’s Community Service Law Award and jointly presented with the WA Bar Association Distinguished Service Award. In 2015, she received Women Lawyers of WA’s award for Women Lawyer of the Year.
Curtis Ward - Member (appointed February 2021 - nominated by the Law Society of WA)
Curtis (he/him) is a solicitor at Clairs Keeley Lawyers. He has worked predominately in the area of family law, with a particular focus on matters involving issues of family violence. Curtis has also practised in both criminal and commercial matters, including small business disputes and consumer protection. He has experience in a variety of different workplaces including private practice, the community legal sector and at Legal Aid WA.
Curtis currently sits as the President on the board of Pride Western Australia Inc, a peak LGBTIQ+ community organisation that provides supports to people of diverse gender and sexuality. He has been a member of the Pride WA Board since 2017.
Curtis was previously on the Young Lawyers Committee of the Law Society of Western Australia, sitting as the Social Justice and Human Rights Chair. Curtis is also a selected member of a City of Perth advisory group.
Note: Since April 2000, the Commonwealth Attorney-General has declined to nominate new members to the Commission.
Reviewed: 29 May 2023