The consultation process for delivering high quality criminal trials

The consultation process for delivering high quality criminal trials

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

This consultation followed a three-stage process to inform any decisions made about changes to trial funding and quality assurance arrangements.

Stage 1: preliminary discussions with key stakeholders

In late 2013, we conducted face-to-face consultations with key stakeholders to get preliminary input on issues of quality and value for money in Victoria Legal Aid funded trials.

Those invited to participate included:

  • Department of Justice
  • Victoria Legal Aid staff
  • Victorian Bar
  • Criminal Bar Association
  • Law Institute of Victoria
  • County Court of Victoria
  • Supreme Court of Victoria and the Court of Appeal
  • Magistrates’ Court of Victoria
  • Office of Public Prosecutions
  • Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions
  • Victorian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
  • Liberty Victoria
  • representatives from the major metropolitan and regional suppliers of indictable trial services in terms of highest number of legally aided trials.

Some of the problems identified include:

  • proper case analysis and strategy development not occurring at early stages.
  • pleas of guilty being entered late.
  • lack of consistency of counsel between committal and trial.
  • pre-trial issues not being resolved until the trial date.
  • variable quality of the advocacy at trial.
  • inconsistent approaches to the role of an instructing solicitor.
  • trial date uncertainty.

Stakeholders agreed that many of the these problems could not be solved by Victoria Legal Aid alone, but that we play a role in influencing systemic change.

Stage 2: call for written submissions

In January 2014 we released a consultation paper for public comment. It contained 53 options to improve legally aided jury trials. The options were wide-ranging and included proposals that reflected stakeholder suggestions.

We received eight written submissions. Read the submissions.

Stage 3: further discussions with stakeholders

We conducted further face-to-face consultations with the following:

  • stakeholders who met with us in the preliminary round late last year, some of whom also provided a written submission. This included Liberty Victoria, the Law Institute of Victoria, a selection of indictable crime panel firms, the Victorian Bar/Criminal Bar Association, Women Barristers Association, Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, the Commonwealth and state directors of Public Prosecutions and various representatives of each of the courts
  • Victoria Legal Aid staff
  • a working group of representatives from the Law Institute of Victoria, panel practitioners, community legal centres and Victoria Legal Aid staff to help define quality practice in indictable crime and develop quality expectations and tools.

Four areas were the focus of the second round of consultations:

  • the instructing guideline
  • development and use of quality tools
  • management of major cases
  • Victoria Legal Aid’s oversight in the briefing of barristers.

Outcomes from the consultation

As a result of the consultation we identified five actions to improve outcomes for Victoria Legal Aid clients, reduce delay, decrease trial length, appropriately resolve cases earlier, and ensure the sustainability of the Legal Aid Fund.