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Review gives legal aid services high praise

Date

Louis Andrews, Natasha Rudra

The territory's legal aid services have been given a glowing review, despite resourcing woes and the ''intense and unrelenting pressure'' on their frontline staff.

An independent report into Legal Aid ACT, released yesterday, found the commission ''scored highly and consistently'' against national benchmarks.

But the report also described the services' work as ''complex and complicated'', with the service's clients including the mentally ill, homeless and others with ''chaotic lifestyles''.

The report's author, Victoria academic Liz Curran, spoke to the service's in-house lawyers, private practitioners, senior prosecutors and judicial officers.

Dr Curran also conducted interviews with past and present legal aid clients.

''Importantly, all clients seemed pleased with their lawyers and felt that they had been heard and given good advice - in some cases noting that, while they did not want to hear the advice, the lawyer was right to tell them,'' she wrote.

''Although the lawyers were concerned that clients might blame the lawyers for the failings of the legal system, the clients seemed to understand their lawyers were trying to help them and that some matters were beyond the lawyer's control.''

In interviews with eight clients after a meeting with their lawyer, all said they now understood the options open to them and most said they knew what to do next.

In one case, an 89-year-old client was scheduled for electro-shock therapy, and it was only in consultation with his legal aid lawyer it was revealed he had a pacemaker.

But Dr Curran noted the research suggested the commission's lawyers were ''often under intense and unrelenting pressure'' and worked with complicated clients.

And the author said she was concerned that staff took courtroom losses as a measure of their ''lack of success'' even when the odds were stacked against them.

Dr Curran made a number of recommendations, including a push to educate the community about the service and, mostly, the fact information and advice is free.

Legal Aid chief executive Andrew Crockett said the report was important research, and the commission would move to implement the recommendations.

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