Delivering high quality criminal trials

Delivering high quality criminal trials

Victoria Legal Aid has undertaken a consultation process to ensure our major expenditure on jury trials delivers:

  • access to justice through quality legal services for our clients
  • efficiency for the courts
  • skilled and focused trial advocacy
  • value for money for the community.

Consultation process

We consulted with stakeholders, including the public, to examine options for improving the quality of legally aided criminal trials in Victoria.

As a result of the consultation we have identified five actions. They target improving outcomes for Victoria Legal Aid clients, reducing delay, decreasing trial length, appropriately resolving cases earlier, and ensuring the sustainability of the Legal Aid Fund.

Action 1: establish a preferred trial counsel list

We established and published the first Criminal Trial Preferred Barrister List on 31 July 2015.

Action 2: retain instructing lawyers in trials

The ‘Interim instructing/co-counsel guideline’ in Guideline 4 will become ongoing. The at-court trial instructing fees will be paid on an hourly basis rather than by half days. This change was introduced on 12 January 2015.

Action 3: introduce new quality tools

We introduced quality tools around brief analysis, case strategy and handover to counsel.

Action 4: introduce new brief analysis and case strategy fee

We introduced a brief analysis and case strategy fee on 12 January 2015.

Action 5: implement a new framework for managing major trials

We introduced the Major Criminal Cases Framework on 1 February 2016. Major criminal cases will largely capture major criminal trials, defined as trials likely to last for more than 15 days (including severed trials less than 15 days that collectively equate to more than 15 days), and committals beyond four days in duration.

These actions will result in greater accountability and transparency around quality service delivery in legally aided criminal trials.

Why we consulted

Victoria Legal Aid funds legal representation in about 80 per cent of all indictable matters in Victoria. This amounts to taxpayer investment of approximately $29.1 million on indictable crime matters each year. Three-quarters of these trials are prepared by private practitioners and the balance by our staff.

Higher court trials account for a significant part of the Legal Aid Fund and ensuring trials are prepared to a high standard from commencement of the proceedings all the way through to verdict is essential to client, court and community confidence in Victoria Legal Aid and the fair administration of justice.

This consultation fulfilled our commitment to review our interim guideline for instructing solicitors in criminal trials. However, the opportunities to improve the way in which criminal trials are conducted go beyond the issue of instructors. The purpose of this consultation was not to target specific savings. This consultation examined ways in which the quality of legally-aided criminal trials can be improved with a focus on preparation, advocacy and value for money.

Legal aid commissions nationally and internationally are dealing with the increased costs and complexity of funding serious criminal cases and Victoria Legal Aid is not alone in facing these challenges.

Read more about the background to this consultation.