Victoria Legal Aid to introduce more flexibility for criminal trial funding

Victoria Legal Aid to introduce more flexibility for criminal trial funding

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Victoria Legal Aid has introduced an interim eligibility guideline which will allow for more flexibility in the funding of second lawyers in criminal trials.

The interim guideline, endorsed by the Victoria Legal Aid Board this morning, is effective from today and should allow all legally aided trials to proceed.

It will allow for more discretion for funding in trials offering fees for a second lawyer – either an instructing solicitor or junior counsel – to support the barrister as and when required during a criminal trial. Existing guidelines also already provide fees for a solicitor to prepare a matter fully for trial and for the barrister to run the trial.

Victoria Legal Aid Managing Director Bevan Warner said the interim guideline acknowledged the importance placed by the Victorian Court of Appeal last week on having instructing solicitors present during criminal trials.

However, he said there would also need to be further discussions between Victoria Legal Aid, the courts and lawyers about the funding of jury trials in the longer term.

‘The interim guideline provides a way of ensuring trials continue while we look more closely at how we will fund trials in the future,’ he said.

‘The reality is that the customary model in Victoria of an instructing solicitor available to attend court for every day of every trial is not considered necessary to ensure a fair trial in other Australian states and is not financially sustainable.

‘It is also not the most equitable use of the legal aid fund when so much of our budget is directed towards jury trials at the expense of other vulnerable clients.’

Mr Warner said consultation was expected to be completed by September.

He said the new guideline would aim to improve the effectiveness of trial preparation and trial conduct, both of which are funded by Victoria Legal Aid.

‘Victoria Legal Aid is approaching a deficit this year greater than the $3.1 million recorded in 2011-12 and will need to identify further savings to compensate for the increased spending on criminal jury trials.

‘Directing more funding to jury trials means that less money will be available for other vulnerable clients or services. We will attempt to identify further savings in our criminal law program before we consider impacts in other areas.’

More information

If you have a media inquiry contact Janine Sim-Jones on 0402 715 381.

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