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?
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?