Help before court – information for panel practitioners

Help before court – information for panel practitioners

Monday, 10 May 2021

Help Before Court represents a new approach to improving people’s experience of going to court and the functioning of the everyday justice system.

Informed by a strong evidence base for needing more time and space in the summary crime system, the service offers legal assistance to people charged with a criminal offence before their court date and away from physical locations.

The Help Before Court service model aims to:

  • improve our clients’ experience of the justice system and avoid long waits at Court
  • facilitate earlier resolution and better linkages with support services
  • promote continuity of service between clients and lawyers
  • relieve pressure on the at-court duty lawyer system
  • help address the COVID backlog and facilitate the delivery of COVID safe services
  • support panel practitioners by creating a new stream of work.

We are seeking expressions of interest from summary crime panel practitioners across Melbourne. If you haven’t already please complete this short EOI form.

If you have already submitted am EOI, thank you for your submission, and we’ll be in contact soon.

Help Before Court services and guidelines

All Help Before Court services are provided pursuant to our Help Before Court Guidelines. The Guidelines set out who is eligible to access a service, and the level of assistance they should receive.

The Help Before Court Guidelines distinguish between 3 levels of service: legal information, legal advice only, and in-court advocacy. They also distinguish between ‘straightforward charges’ and ‘significant charges’, as well as certain priority client groups. In general:

  • legal advice only (ie without in-court advocacy) should be provided to a client who meets the income test and who faces a straightforward charge
  • in-court advocacy should be provided to a client facing a significant charge, OR a client who falls into a priority group and faces a straightforward charge or a significant charge
  • legal information will be provided to people ineligible for a more intensive service. Clients who are eligible for legal information only are assisted by VLA staff, rather than being referred to a private practitioner.

Help Before Court matters are triaged by Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) staff before being referred to a lawyer.

Fees

Under the Help Before Court model, VLA pays lawyers for each client according to the service provided. As of January 2021, the fees for Help Before Court services are:

  • In court advocacy matter (finalised) - $302
  • Advice only - $75.50
  • Where a client disengages at the summary case conference stage - $151

​Allocation of matters 

We allocate matters in a way which puts the client first and treats practitioners fairly. A client will be allocated to a specific practitioner where:

  • the client and practitioner have a pre-existing relationship
  • the client requests a referral to a specific practitioner
  • the client has particular needs which would be best met by a specific practitioner.

Otherwise we allocate matters equitably across the list of participating firms.

More information

Watch the video of a recent Help Before Court presentation to panel practitioners.

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