Major Criminal Cases Framework

Major Criminal Cases Framework

The Major Criminal Cases Framework is the structure which determines how Victoria Legal Aid will monitor and manage all legally aided major criminal cases.

The framework was implemented on 1 February 2016.

What does the framework capture?

The Major Criminal Cases Framework captures:

  • major criminal trials (criminal trials that are likely to last more than 15 days, including severed trials less than 15 days that collectively equate to more than 15 days)
  • committals over four days.

Where Victoria Legal Aid considers it appropriate, it may include other criminal cases that do not meet the above requirements under the framework.

Purpose

The Major Criminal Cases Framework and the mandatory requirements aim to:

  • ensure high quality representation in legally aided major criminal cases
  • allow Victoria Legal Aid to monitor major criminal cases to better forecast and financially plan for the impact of such cases on the fund
  • introduce greater accountability for practitioners conducting major criminal cases
  • ensure consistent, transparent and fair decisions in relation to funding for major criminal cases.

Mandatory requirements under the framework

Contested committals over four days

  1. The Major Criminal Cases Framework will introduce mandatory timeframes for submitting a grant of legal assistance for contested committals beyond four days including mandatory submission of relevant materials via ATLAS. These include:
  1. Practitioners must request a contested committal grant of legal assistance within 14 days of the committal mention.

Rationale

Setting a timeframe will ensure Victoria Legal Aid is notified of these matters at an early stage. This will ensure accountability for work that should be completed as part of the practitioner’s and/or counsel’s preparation for the contested committal and eventually trial. Victoria Legal Aid considers 14 days as sufficient to submit an application/extension for a grant of legal assistance for a contested committal.

  1. The Form 32, evidence of brief analysis and case strategy, prosecution summary, witness list and completed Contested Committals – exceeding four days worksheet must be submitted at the same time as a request for a grant of legal assistance for a contested committal beyond four days. Details of all co-accused must be provided to Victoria Legal Aid.

Rationale

Most of the above documents are already required by Victoria Legal Aid before a grant of legal assistance for a contested committal will be approved. The only additional document required relate to evidence of brief analysis and case strategy (such as Victoria Legal Aid’s Brief analysis and case strategy tool). This should have been completed as part of the preparation for the committal mention.

  1. In all Commonwealth major criminal cases, charge sheets and details of all co-accused must be provided to Victoria Legal Aid.

Rationale

Victoria Legal Aid must comply with various guidelines when applying for reimbursement from the Attorney’s General Department for expensive Commonwealth criminal cases. This means that Victoria Legal Aid must request specific information from practitioners about the case in order to satisfy the guidelines.

Changes to current process for requesting legal assistance for additional contested committal days

  1. Requests for additional contested committal days must be made within two business days of the last day that is covered under the contested committal grant of legal assistance. They must be accompanied with reasons as to why the committal did not finalise within the estimated timeframe, what factors contributed to the committal running over the estimated timeframe and the issues to be resolved in the additional days.

Rationale

This will assist to reduce the number of retrospective grants of legal assistance by allowing a grace period in which practitioners can submit an extension of legal of assistance for additional committal days.

Changes to current process for requesting legal assistance for committal days

  1. From 1 February 2016, practitioners may recommend grants of legal assistance for contested committal days up to four days.

Rationale 

Victoria Legal Aid acknowledges that practitioners are correctly applying guideline 3.1 committal proceedings involving homicide, consent or identification and guideline 3.2 committal proceedings in other cases. This demonstrates substantial understanding of the committals guideline and as such, Victoria Legal Aid considers there is a low risk involved with increasing practitioner recommendation for committal days from two to four days.

Criminal trials over 15 days

  1. The Major Criminal Cases Framework will introduce mandatory timeframes for submitting a grant of legal assistance for criminal trials including mandatory submission of relevant materials via ATLAS, which will coincide with major court events leading up to the trial. These include:
    1. Practitioners must request a trial grant of legal assistance within 28 days of the initial directions hearing. A post-committal report and trial preparation plan (prepared by counsel who appeared at the committal mention or contested committal) must be submitted at the same time. If the matter proceeded by way of straight hand up brief, the prosecution summary and evidence of brief analysis and case strategy will also be required. If the matter proceeded by way of contested committal, the form 32, evidence of brief analysis and case strategy, prosecution summary, and witness list will also be required (if they have not already been provided).
    2. Practitioners must provide the Crown Opening (including Notices of Pre-trial Admissions Sought, Hearsay, Tendency and/or Coincidence Notices) and a draft trial preparation plan at least 14 days prior to the final directions hearing.
    3. Practitioners must provide the Defence Response (including pre-trial issues, Notice of Pre-trial Issues and other matters addressed in County Court Criminal Division Practice Note 6.4) at least seven days prior to the final directions hearing.
    4. Practitioners must provide any Notice of Additional Evidence within seven days of receipt if it is likely to extend the duration of the trial or materially alter the direction of the trial. An updated trial preparation plan must also be submitted at the same time.
    5. In all Commonwealth major criminal cases, charge sheets and details of all co-accused must be provided to Victoria Legal Aid.

Rationale

Setting a timeframe will ensure Victoria Legal Aid is notified of these matters at an early stage. This will ensure accountability for work that should be completed as part of the practitioner’s and/or counsel’s preparation for trial. Further, any issues can be identified early.

Victoria Legal Aid must comply with various guidelines when applying for reimbursement from the Attorney’s General Department for expensive Commonwealth criminal cases. This means that Victoria Legal Aid must request specific information from practitioners about the case in order to satisfy the guidelines.

Changes to current process for requesting legal assistance for additional trials days

  1. Requests for additional trial days must be made within two business days of the last day that is covered under the trial grant of legal assistance and be accompanied with reasons as to why the trial did not finalise within the estimated timeframe, what factors contributed to the trial running over the estimated timeframe and the issues to be resolved in the additional days.

Rationale

This will assist to reduce the number of retrospective grants of legal assistance by allowing a grace period in which practitioners can submit an extension of legal assistance for additional trial days.

Who can have conduct of major criminal cases

  1. Only Level 1 panel certifiers and VLA4 lawyers and above can certify grants of legal assistance for a major criminal case.
  2. Level 2 panel certifiers and non-certifiers, and VLA3 lawyers can only work on a major criminal case under the supervision of a Level 1 panel certifier or VLA4 lawyer and above.

Rationale

A Level 1 panel certifier or VLA4 lawyer and above are considered to be senior lawyers who are experienced in conducting indictable criminal trials. These lawyers are generally Law Institute of Victoria Accredited Criminal Law Specialists. This ensures junior lawyers are appropriately supervised and properly supported in the management of these cases and their professional development. The Level 1 panel certifier or VLA4 lawyer and above certifying the grant of legal assistance will have ultimate responsibility and accountability for the matter.

Standards for mandatory documentation

  1. Victoria Legal Aid will impose minimum requirements for all mandatory documentation, comprising of a completed brief analysis and case strategy, committal report and trial preparation plan, and brief and handover to counsel, or its equivalent.

Rationale

Victoria Legal Aid recognises the need for individual firms to produce templates that are reflective of the individual needs of their practice, however, setting minimum requirements will ensure a minimum standard that is acceptable and applicable to all practitioners doing legally aided criminal trial work.

Further, Victoria Legal Aid must comply with various guidelines when applying for reimbursement from the Attorney’s General Department for expensive Commonwealth criminal cases. This means that Victoria Legal Aid must request specific information from practitioners about the cases in order to satisfy the guidelines.

Compliance and quality audits

  1. Compliance and quality audits, targeting major criminal cases, will be conducted by Victoria Legal Aid’s Assignments Unit on a yearly basis.
  2. Victoria Legal Aid will conduct a desktop review of mandatory documents required for major criminal cases on a quarterly basis.
  3. Where quality issues are identified during a compliance, quality audit or desktop review, these matters will be referred to the Assignments Co-ordinator, Major Criminal Cases for review, and the Managing Lawyer, Assignments Criminal Law, if necessary. Victoria Legal Aid will ensure officers occupying these positions have the appropriate level of knowledge and practical experience in conducting indictable criminal matters.

Rationale

It is vital for Victoria Legal Aid to closely monitor major criminal cases, including high cost matters and high risk matters to ensure legal aid is provided in the most effective, economic and efficient manner. This ensures practitioners are accountable for the work that they do and ensure compliance with the framework. This also allows Victoria Legal Aid to identify any issues early on.

Review of the framework

  1. Victoria Legal Aid will review the Major Criminal Cases Framework after 12 months of the implementation date.

Rationale

This is to ensure there is sufficient data available to assess and evaluate the Major Criminal Cases Framework.

Transitional arrangements ​

Where a practitioner has obtained a Committal mention grant prior to the implementation date of the Major Criminal Cases Framework, Victoria Legal Aid will allow practitioners 14 days from 1 February 2016 in which to submit an application for legal assistance for the contested committal.

Where the Initial Directions Hearing proceeded prior to the implementation date of the Major Criminal Cases Framework, Victoria Legal Aid will allow practitioners 28 days from 1 February 2016 in which to submit an application for legal assistance for the trial. 

Where the Final Directions Hearing is listed within 14 days after 1 February 2016, Victoria Legal Aid will allow practitioners to submit the Crown Opening, draft trial preparation plan and the Defence Response any time up until the date of the Final Directions Hearing. 

More information​

For more information to assist practitioners with understanding the requirements under the Major Criminal Cases Framework and navigating the changes to ATLAS, please see:

Contact

For more information about the Major Criminal Cases Framework, please contact:

Elizabeth Le, Assignments Co-ordinator, Major Criminal Cases
Email: majorcriminalcases@vla.vic.gov.au
Phone: (03) 9606 5224