Help before court – an opportunity to rethink summary crime hearings

Help before court – an opportunity to rethink summary crime hearings

Tuesday, 12 January 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.

The challenges presented by last year’s pandemic have created an opportunity to rethink the summary crime system, in ways that will let people actively participate in the justice system, and ensure fairer, better informed hearings where people’s rights are respected.

Restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic have led to a looming backlog of thousands of everyday criminal hearings in the Magistrates’ Court in Victoria, delayed to ensure the health and safety of all people involved in day-to-day court hearings.

As we move into a COVID-normal future, the need to think differently is clear. In collaboration with the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria and private legal practitioners around the state, we have launched Help Before Court.

It will allow people to access legal assistance in advance of their court date, and it is backed by changes to the way we get people the information and advice they need.

Reaching people before their court date

In the past, weeks would pass from someone receiving a summons to appear at court, and their actual court date. That is several weeks where, previously, they weren’t receiving the legal information or advice they need. This service aims to change that.

By being able to register online, over the phone or through their local office, they can get help in advance of their court date, ensuring they have appropriate documentation and are clearly aware of what to expect on the day.

Working with a lawyer in advance, people can better prepare for their day in Court, ensuring their experience is better, and the operation of the courts smoother. All this has the potential to make an enormous difference to the daily operation of the Magistrates’ Court, and the wider justice system.

Improving the experience of going to court

By speaking with our clients, we know that in the past, the experience of going to court can confusing and intimidating. People arrive on their appointed date with little more than their charges with hard-to-understand details and a hearing date. They are often directed to our lawyers, and then there is an extensive process of triage and intake, assigning people lawyers rapidly, and waiting for hearings to take place.

By having lawyers assigned, and informed, in advance, this process will go more smoothly for our clients and our lawyers as well as court staff and police. Many hearings will potentially be resolved ‘on the papers’, that is, before the hearing even takes place, further reducing the burden on an already stretched justice system.

The Help Before Court service is vital to ensuring we are all prepared to face the coming increase in demand for services, while also ensuring Victorians’ experience of the Courts is as simple and swift as possible.

Have Victoria Police charged you with a criminal or driving offence? Or is there a problem with your community corrections order?

Apply for Help Before Court.

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