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Legal Aid ordered to front court over 'fair trial' worry

Date

Andrea Petrie

Victoria Legal Aid will reconsider its decision to refuse funding for a second lawyer for the duration of the trial of a man facing serious charges including attempted murder, after a judge summoned a representative of the organisation to the Supreme Court to explain its decision.

At what is the latest of several stay applications for serious criminal trials on the basis those accused would not get a fair trial without adequate legal representation, Justice Betty King stood the matter down and ordered a legal aid representative to attend court.

‘‘It costs a lot more to have this court’s time wasted than it does to fund an instructing solicitor,’’ Justice King then told the representative, Louise James, once the case resumed. The judge noted that the trial of the accused man was due to begin next week.

The court heard a prosecution witness was also being flown in from overseas to give evidence at the trial, and the Crown was unable to obtain the necessary criminal justice visa to enable that to happen, until they knew exactly when the trial would commence.

Ms James explained that funding for additional counsel – either an instructing solicitor for more than two half days, or another barrister to assist the defence barrister that funding had been approved for – were rejected on the basis the case did not meet the threshold necessary in accordance with the organisations’s guidelines.

The judge had earlier been told that refusal had been on the basis that legal aid did not consider the case ‘‘complex’’ enough. Nor was the defendant intellectually or psychiatrically impaired or a minor among other conditions.

But after hearing additional information from the defence in court that she claimed had been provided to Legal Aid in the rejected funding applications, Ms James said the matter would be reconsidered.

A legal aid spokeswoman said: "All applicants for legal aid have a right to have their decisions about their funding reviewed and it is routine practice for our staff to attend court to clarify matters around grants of aid.

"Victoria Legal Aid continues to fund the cost of legal representation for eligible people in all serious criminal cases," she said.

Justice King will hear the outcome of legal aid's review of the decision at 9.30am on Wednesday.

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