Our role in criminal trials

Our role in criminal trials

The right to a fair trial is fundamental. It is vital that all people have access to quality legal representation when they are accused of a serious crime.

About 80 per cent of people who face criminal trial in Victoria have their defence funded by Victoria Legal Aid. This is because poor people are over-represented in the ranks of people charged with criminal offences.

Who can get a grant of legal assistance

We fund the representation of people charged with a criminal offence when they cannot afford a private lawyer and they meet our eligibility criteria. See Get a lawyer to run your case.

Under the Legal Aid Act 1978 (Vic) if we refuse to fund a case, the person who applies has the right to ask us to reconsider. If we continue to refuse, they can then ask for the case to be reviewed by an independent reviewer who can overturn our decision. See Disagree with a grants decision.

Many trials are funded in the interests of justice to ensure they proceed fairly and to avoid the trauma to victims and the costly delays which could result if unrepresented accused people ran their own trials.

Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Act 2009 (Vic) allows a court to order us to fund the defence of a person accused of a serious crime. The court can also, under Victorian laws, stop a jury trial from going ahead if someone is not represented on the basis that their trial will be unfair.

How much do we spend on grants?

Under section 43 of the Legal Aid Act, we are prohibited from providing information about the costs of individual cases.

Victoria Legal Aid is committed to transparency and providing information about how public money is spent and this is outlined in our annual report.

In 2013–14 we spent $29.1 million on serious criminal matters. This included $19 million on indictable crime matters and $7.2 million on sexual offences. It also included $2.9 million spent on appeals, although more than half of this is on appeals from the Magistrates’ Court to the County Court (known as de novo appeals). Spending on higher court sentence and conviction appeals amounted to $900,000 or a little over 0.5 per cent of our budget.

No two legal matters are the same. They can vary widely depending on the matter and its complexity, the court it is heard in, whether the matter proceeds to trial because the accused person pleads not guilty and how long the trial goes for.

Our Delivering high quality criminal trials consultation paper found that trial length was one of the biggest contributors to the cost of a trial.

An 11-day trial in the County Court trial can cost about $20,000 for in-court costs for barristers and solicitors, not including preparation and other fees. A similar Supreme Court trial would cost around $34,000.

Major trials can involve co-accused, have many witnesses and complex evidence. Some major trials can also involve a large volume of evidence such as transcripts of covert recordings or financial records. These trials often cost more because additional preparation fees are paid.

Major trials are more expensive. Since 2009, Victoria Legal Aid funded about 190 major trials at an average cost of just over $91,000 each and more than $17 million in total.

In 2015, we will establish a framework to more closely manage the costs in major trials that go beyond 15 days.

How much do lawyers get paid for doing legal aid work?

More than two-thirds of representation for legally aided clients is conducted by private lawyers who do so on a grant of assistance. The other one-third is conducted by lawyers employed directly by Victoria Legal Aid.

A full list of fees paid to private lawyers is publicly available in our VLA Handbook for lawyers.

Some of the fees more commonly paid are are $136 per hour or $680 per day for an instructing solicitor in the County Court and $241 per hour or $1205 per day in the Supreme Court.

A private barrister would be paid $1098per day for appearing in a County Court trial and $1758 in a Supreme Court trial.

Delivering high quality criminal trials

Victoria Legal Aid has worked with its colleagues in the justice sector to develop changes that will encourage more efficient trials and higher quality representation for clients.

The outcomes of the Delivering high quality criminal trials project will be implemented in 2015.

The project aims to ensure our major expenditure on criminal trials is delivering quality for our clients, efficiency for the courts and value for money for the community.

More information

Victoria Legal Aid annual report – Criminal Law program

Changes to encourage more efficient trials and higher quality representation for clients

Victoria Legal Aid appeals review finds numbers are down but extra safeguards to be introduced

Lump sum fees for County and Supreme court stages of an indictable matter