This case study shows how we can work with private practitioners to resolve funding issues and address concerns about the conduct of a legally assisted matter at the early stages.
Through such collaboration we ensure that clients receive high quality representation and that our limited funds are spent wisely.
The accused was granted legal assistance for a 30-day trial in the Supreme Court. Approval was granted for two counsel for the trial under the former two-counsel guideline. Additional preparation was approved for both counsel to prepare for the trial. Both counsel had conduct of the committal and were familiar with the case.
Not long before the trial was due to commence, counsel applied for an adjournment on the basis that the defence was ‘under-prepared’. We obtained a copy of the transcript to inform discussions with the instructing firm about the status of legal aid funding and the firm’s conduct of this matter.
We were concerned that the matter had not been ready to proceed to trial despite both counsel and the practitioner having had conduct of the matter since committal stage. We wrote to the practitioner requesting information about how the client’s case had been managed to that date, including details about instructions to counsel, the basis of the adjournment application and post-committal negotiations, as well as an outline of the reasons why the matter was not ready to proceed to trial and a copy of the brief.
The practitioner’s response sufficiently mitigated concerns about the firm’s conduct, in that the firm competently discharged duties in a trial matter. However, we concluded that the matter required closer management by the instructing practitioner of senior counsel, including requiring updates and confirmation of instructions before undertaking certain courses of action, such as making applications for adjournments. We also had some concern at the extent of the work undertaken by junior counsel to prepare for the matter.
After discussing the issues with us, the firm decided to replace junior counsel with one of the firm’s in-house advocates (a former barrister) and provided an instructor during the course of the trial as a staff training opportunity. Importantly, the trial ultimately proceeded on the designated date.
Disclaimer: The material in this print-out relates to the law as it applies in the state of Victoria. It is intended as a general guide only. Readers should not act on the basis of any material in this print-out without getting legal advice about their own particular situations. Victoria Legal Aid disclaims any liability howsoever caused to any person in respect of any action taken in reliance on the contents of the publication.
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Reviewed 25 January 2022