Get help at court

Get help at court

We have lawyers on ‘duty’ at many courts and tribunals across Victoria. These ‘duty lawyers’ help people who are at court for a hearing, but do not have their own lawyer.

The Duty Lawyer Service is free. However duty lawyers do not represent everyone. Therefore it is always best to speak to us before going to court.

Contact us to find out if you can see a duty lawyer or how we can help you with your legal problem.

Who can see a lawyer at court

Duty lawyers help people who need it most. Our main focus is on people who:

  • can’t afford a private lawyer
  • have an intellectual disability, an acquired brain injury or mental illness
  • are experiencing or at risk of homelessness
  • are in a psychiatric in-patient unit with a Mental Health Tribunal hearing
  • a child or young person going to the Children’s Court
  • can’t speak, read or write well in English
  • are Indigenous Australians
  • are at court for a family violence matter or are at risk of family violence
  • are in custody or facing a serious penalty.

A serious penalty is where there is a real risk that a person will:

The penalty can depend on your prior criminal record.

How the Duty Lawyer Service can help you

Depending on your circumstances, we may be able to:

  • give you information – for some matters we can provide printed information about specific offences and what happens in court
  • give you legal advice – about the law and what happens in court. This may include negotiations with the prosecution
  • represent you in court that day
  • arrange for a legal aid lawyer to run your case – we may be able to adjourn your court hearing so that you can see a lawyer or get a lawyer to run your case.

If you are an adult at the Magistrates' Court for a criminal matter, getting advice or representation will depend on your income. For more information see Duty lawyers at court for criminal charges.

What we can help you with

Duty lawyers can help with the matters listed below. However, contact us to find out if we can help you with your legal problem.

Children’s Court

At the Children’s Court we can help you with:

  • criminal law matters
  • child protection applications
  • family violence and personal safety intervention orders.

Magistrates’ Court

At the Magistrates’ Court we can help you with:

  • adult criminal law matters
  • serious traffic matters
  • family violence matters and intervention orders
  • some infringement matters (if you have special circumstances).

Mental Health Tribunal

At the Mental Health Tribunal (the in-patient units where the hearings are held) we can help you with compulsory involuntary treatment orders.

Family Court

At the Family Court we can help you with family law matters.

Federal Circuit Court

At the Federal Circuit Court we can help you with:

  • family law matters
  • child support
  • some immigration matters.

Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal

At the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal we can help you with:

  • guardianship and administration matters
  • residential tenancy matters (tenants only)
  • anti-discrimination matters
  • some civil claims matters.

Administrative Appeals Tribunal

At the Administrative Appeals Tribunal we can help you with:

  • Veterans' Affairs matters
  • social security matters
  • some immigration matters.

Where you can find the service

The Duty Lawyer Service is not available at all courts and tribunals. See Find a Duty Lawyer Service for a list of the courts we attend.

How to see a duty lawyer

Before going to court, contact us to find out if you can see a duty lawyer or how we can help you with your legal problem.

If a duty lawyer can see you, it is best to turn up at the court or tribunal when it opens, as they have many people to see and you may have to wait.

When you get to court, ask the court staff if there is a lawyer on duty. If there is, the court staff should be able to tell you what you need to do to see the lawyer.

If you need an interpreter, the court will organise this for you. It is best to let the court know before your hearing. If you haven’t done this, tell the court staff as soon as you get to court.

Preparing to go to court

To help you understand your legal options it is best to get legal advice before going to court.

Before going to court you should also:

  • collect and bring the paperwork you have about your matter – for example, your charge and summons, police brief, court documents, letters or fines, character references, medical reports
  • let the court know if you need an interpreter or other assistance
  • ask a friend or family member to go with you for support if you want to.

Plan to keep the whole day free. Even if your matter is listed at 9.30 am you may have to wait a few hours before the court hears your matter.

Also plan how you are getting to court. Parking in the city and some suburban locations can be expensive, so you might want to consider using public transport or getting someone to drop you off.

You should not drive to court if you are facing charges where you might lose your licence. If you are found guilty, you may have your licence disqualified or cancelled immediately. For more information see Possible outcomes for traffic offences.