20th Feb 2013
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Legal Aid lets Aussies down
Legal Aid lets Aussies down

In the past week two serious criminal trials have been halted. In both cases Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) chose to only provide an instructing solicitor for one day of the trial in order to save money. As the Legal Aid system varies across the country, these cases would probably have proceeded in other states and territories.

The first case was called to a halt by Supreme Court Judge Lex Lasry and the second by Justice Terence Forrest. Both ruled that the cases could not go ahead until VLA provided an instructing solicitor “on a day-to-day basis for the duration of the trial[s]”.

Justice Terence Forrest has warned that “many criminal trials will be postponed for as long as the cost-cutting protocol survives. This is incompatible with the proper, timely and just administration of criminal justice.”

VLA’s response to the first case stated that Justice Lasry “believes the Victorian taxpayer should have to pay for not only a solicitor to prepare the case for trial and a barrister to represent the accused during the trial, but also for the instructing solicitor to sit through the trial. In other Australian states, including South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory,  this trial would currently be going ahead.”

You can read the full statement at the VLA website

If you or someone you know needs legal counsel then why not find your state’s Legal Aid website

 

Opinion – Some are more equal than others

Legal Aid provides legal help to those who could not afford it otherwise. There is one Legal Aid organisation for each state and territory of Australia and they all have slightly different rules and guidelines. This mess with VLA has simply highlighted an Australia-wide issue: what constitutes a fair trial?

Under the Legal Aid system in some states you will get a solicitor to organise your case, a barrister to argue it and a supervising solicitor to provide counsel for the duration of your trial. In other states you only get the supervising solicitor for one day. How is that fair?

VLA is suggesting that it is not fair to ask taxpayers to cover these costs. I think it’s more a case of the haves and have-nots. For example, how many pensioners could afford to hire a fancy lawyer?

Another way to look at it is this: none of those being prosecuted during the criminal trials have been found guilty. They are all currently innocent in the eyes of the law. Legal Aid is not funding lawyers for criminals – it is funding lawyers for Australians. If we take away Legal Aid from these people, how many innocents will end up in jail simply because they did not receive the best possible legal counsel?

What do you think? Is it unfair that taxpayers have to fork out for these legal fees, or is this one area in which you are happy to see your hard-earned money spent?





    COMMENTS

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    Jen
    20th Feb 2013
    11:24am
    It's always been the same. I remember 30 years ago a friend, newly separated with 3 small children, no job, no money, was turned down for help when the house they owned together was sold and her ex husband instructed the solicitor to put the proceeds of sale into his account (instead of half in his, half in hers.) Unknown to her, until a week after the sale, her half was still not in her account. Husband had disappeared. Thanks to Legal Aid turning her down, he got away with it. This affected her and the kids adversely for over 10 years, as she battled to get back on her feet. Disgraceful.
    PeterB
    20th Feb 2013
    11:37am
    Actually, the purpose of Legal Aid is for representation in criminal matters. The rules state that in order to be eligible, you must meet certain financial guidelines. T that it is the role of Legal Aid is to assist those who are unable to fund their own legal defence.

    In civil matters, there are similar agencies who can provide assistance. To state that it is 'unfair' for taxpayers to fund this goes against what it is we are supposed to stand for in a democracy and a welfare state. I believe that we taxpayers have the responsibility to help those who need it.

    Don't get me wrong, the law breakers should not get an easy ride. But those who deserve assistance should be able to access the best defence 'we' can afford.
    Fiona
    20th Feb 2013
    12:03pm
    LIke Jen, I have a friend who had 2 small children and went to legal aid to get a divorce and try and get some money back from her husband that her parents had given her . She was awarded $20000 of it but was charged about $12,500 by the lawyer for legal aid. We were having to help her with food and clothes, especially with private rental as she never did get to the top of the government housing list and her boys are over 30 now and married.
    PeterB
    20th Feb 2013
    12:27pm
    Hi Fiona, that matter would not have legal aid as divorce is a CIVIL matter dealt with by the Family Court of Australia or Federal Magistrates Court. Legal Aid is a government department that deals ONLY in criminal matters.

    It sounds like your friend sought legal assistance from a private law firm or community legal agency to assist her in the divorce. I would suggest that she either agreed to pay a fixed fee or agreed to a percentage of proceeds. This would have been known BEFORE she signed her representation agreement.

    That particular situation has nothing whatsoever to do with the issue of Legal Aid.

    Not sure if you have heard the old saying, "the only people who benefit from a court hearing is the lawyers". Sad but true.

    Peter
    Debbie McTaggart
    20th Feb 2013
    1:48pm
    Peter, you can actually get Legal Aid for civil and family matters in some states. See link to Legal Aid Queensland http://www.legalaid.qld.gov.au/publications/Factsheets-and-guides/Factsheets/Pages/Can-I-get-legal-aid.aspx
    Young Simmo
    20th Feb 2013
    12:54pm
    I think Lawyers are criminals, they spend all their life trying to get guilty people off. Surely that has to be aiding and abetting.
    student
    20th Feb 2013
    1:05pm
    money talks Young Simmo :)
    Young Simmo
    20th Feb 2013
    2:46pm
    I was referring to their caricatures and principals, which seem to be non existent if there is a cent in it.
    student
    20th Feb 2013
    1:04pm
    unfortunately, many of the long time and 'seasoned' solicitors don't do 'free representation' for the underprivileged and poor. How inspiring it would be for a top notched lawyer to do volunteer work in the poorer (and disadvantaged) suburbs. Not only would they be giving the best legal advice but the local lawyers would have access to higher learning.

    The law is not equal or fair.
    Sylvia
    20th Feb 2013
    1:12pm
    As there is committee to decide what the minimum wage should be, I think there should be another, to set the ceiling on charges that can be made for both health and justice, it seems to me people go into those professions these days for greed, not a calling or compassion, they have peoples lives in their hands , and many have been destroyed just trying to get treatment or justice.I guess i am naive to believe it has ever been any different.
    Jen
    20th Feb 2013
    1:37pm
    Sounds good Sylvia, but would it work? The daughter of a friend is a doctor. What she earns as a locum in one week, would keep us going for months. I'm talking thousands per day. Whilst I say, "good for her," she was lucky enough to be born very bright and worked hard for it, and if she can do it, then why not? But I also find such a high cost for her services, a tad distasteful. Someone's paying through the nose for it. Unfortunately if they don't get that high income here, they'll go o/s and get it, which leaves us short of doctors. It's a conundrum.
    student
    20th Feb 2013
    10:17pm
    Unfortunately Drs and Lawyers make mistakes and thus pay high, VERY high insurance :) Their income has to pay for this.... we pay for their services AND their insurance.
    PeterB
    20th Feb 2013
    1:36pm
    There is yet another Old Saying that fits here, "how much Justice can you afford?"

    Unfortunately, it is a fact of life that lawyers are in business, not a charity. My career has lead me to meet many lawyers, some I liked, some not...

    When a senior lawyer (or barrister) can earn in excess of $3000 per hour, it is very unlikely they will volunteer their time for free. The vast majority of Legal Aid and volunteer lawyers are very young and inexperienced. So it is inevitable that mistakes will happen. Of course, if the case is high profile, the big guns will give their time, if there are TV cameras.

    But please do not judge all lawyers by this, there are actually some highly educated people out there practicing their craft and doing a great job.

    Peter
    Sylvia
    20th Feb 2013
    5:42pm
    Maybe in another life I shall become a lawyer, and become the Fred Hollaway of the opressed, because at my age I can see whats important.But then I am soft! or so my children tell me.
    Tom Tank
    20th Feb 2013
    10:16pm
    I guess this might illustrate a weakness with our legal system, which is the English Common Law. This is an adversarial system which relies on arguments put by each side and supposedly the best argument wins. This has created a system which can be described as "getting the best justice money can buy". European, and Scottish systems differ in that the purpose of the trial is to determine the truth of what actually happened. There are legal representation on both sides so I guess that here again money can win out but at least on the surface it would appear to be fairer.
    In the English system lawyers representing the accused don't want to know what actually happened in case their client is in fact guilty. They create a defence based upon what they think will clear their client whether he/she is guilty or not. The question is where is the justice in that system? Lawyers of course love that type of system as it is almost a licence to print money.
    To get justice needs a level playing field for all and in our current system that is not going to happen. At the risk of being hunted down for heresy perhaps we need to Nationalise the legal profession and pay all lawyers a salary.
    student
    22nd Feb 2013
    3:05pm
    Oh Tom, can you imagine the noise if "... we need to Nationalise the legal profession and pay all lawyers a salary. ..." was implemented?? Most, if not all, of our politicians have a degree in Law, hmmm, nahhh, it would never in a trillion years pass the Senate :)
    speakup
    21st Feb 2013
    4:30am
    Mr Bumble (Oliver Twist) said "Then Sir the Law is an ass" was a 100% correct
    maxchugg
    21st Feb 2013
    10:20am
    This is a subject upon which it is extremely difficult to obtain information. But in Tasmania the Aboriginal Legal Service (Beeton and Mansell) is listed in the phone book.

    I'm willing to bet that the clients of this service are not knocked back for financial reasons.
    Boof
    21st Feb 2013
    12:18pm
    OK. Those who are entitled to Legal Aid, albeit "Trainee Lawyers", should have their trials postponed until L.Aid can provide an appropriate Solicitor for the duration of the case. If it has to wait for awhile, so be it.
    The Aboriginal Legal Service, would send a hire car for their clients to attend court each day. ( Or get Aboriginal Affairs to do so.).
    Sylvia
    21st Feb 2013
    3:53pm
    I agree with TomTank, can't see it happening in my life time though, but it would be a step in the right direction. The whole system needs a shake up.
    Sylvia
    21st Feb 2013
    3:55pm
    I also feel every Australian should have equal rights, so maybe making justice affordable would be a start.
    man saw
    22nd Feb 2013
    12:33pm
    The law is not equal or fair only how rich you are is it, justice for sale
    Waytoopoortobeme
    23rd Feb 2013
    8:10am
    I recall contacting Legal aid a few years back to ask if they could assist with a matter.
    I didn't get past first base. They asked some questions with regard to my situation & despite low income it was the Fact that I owned my home that was the deal breaker.
    The old analogy Assett rich purse poor scenario.


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