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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2005 Week 2 Hansard (17 February) . . Page.. 545..


MR STANHOPE (continuing):

commission to continue to improve the service. The bill includes amendments to allow legal assistance to be granted for discrete actions in the court process as well as whole matters. For example, it may be appropriate to provide legal aid to pursue general access arrangements in a family law matter, but not to provide it for an unreasonable aspect of the legally assisted person's views on access.

The bill further expands the options available to the commission in providing assistance by clarifying that the commission may provide minor legal assistance. This might include such matters as writing a letter for a client or assisting a client to fill in a form. These might seem simple tasks, but often they will make a world of difference to a client. The commission is also empowered to charge for this assistance where it considers it appropriate. The bill will allow the commission to maintain greater control over the provision of legal assistance in particular cases by providing the commission with the power to require the particular types of applications be referred directly to the commission for decision. It is anticipated that this would be a rare occurrence but might be used, for example, where a particular type of case is likely to have a significant financial impact on the commission.

In a similar vein, the bill includes amendments to clarify that legal assistance may only be granted after an application is received. Currently it is theoretically possible for a person to apply for legal aid retrospectively, after their matter has concluded. This makes it difficult for the commission to manage its finances. Of significance to the legal profession, the bill inserts a new provision into the act to require private legal practitioners to invoice the commission for services within six months of the finalisation of a matter. This amendment is designed to assist the commission in managing its finances.

The bill contains a number of housekeeping amendments to remove redundant provisions. It removes the provision for one of the ACT legal aid commissioners to be nominated by the Attorney-General for the commonwealth to represent him or her. The commonwealth has advised that it no longer wishes to be represented on the commission and has not had a nominated commissioner for a number of years. The bill also repeals the provisions of the act dealing with legal aid committees, as legal aid committees are no longer used. The bill also includes amendments to legislatively put beyond doubt the authority of the commission to allocate a particular solicitor for a legally assisted person. In making such a decision, the commission should take the legally assisted person's express choice into account. These are all quite small amendments, but they will have a substantive impact on the way in which the Legal Aid Commission provides this valuable service to the ACT community. I commend the bill to the Assembly.

Debate (on motion by Mr Stefaniak ) adjourned to next sitting.

Justice and Community Safety Legislation Amendment Bill 2005

Mr Stanhope, pursuant to notice, presented the bill, its explanatory statement and a Human Rights Act compatibility statement.

Title read by Clerk.


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