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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 4 Hansard (1 April) . . Page.. 1503..

MR CORBELL: The claims that Mrs Cross outlines are very serious. I am very happy to meet with the wife of this individual at a mutually suitable time to discuss the issue further. I should also indicate clearly that if this person and their spouse have serious concerns they should also consider raising the issue with the commissioner for health services complaints. That is why that body has been established-so that issues of core care or concerns about care can be properly and independently investigated. Further, I trust that, if necessary, further discussions can take place with the Canberra Hospital management. I would say that, overwhelmingly, the feedback that I get about the services at the Canberra Hospital is excellent. Indeed, just today I received a strong letter of commendation from a gentleman whose wife had occasion to use the emergency department and who received excellent care throughout. He has written to me commending the hospital on its service. Hospitals deal with a variety of very difficult circumstances. Clearly the claims that Mrs Cross makes on behalf of her constituent are serious and I am more than prepared to investigate them.

Bushfires-coroner's inquest

MR STEFANIAK: My question is to the Attorney-General. Attorney, the Canberra Times of today reports you as saying that, while 40 or 50 employees or volunteers have sought legal representation at the coroner's inquest, the government is likely to pay for only 15 barristers to represent individuals and groups of individuals. This raises the important question of an individual's representation being compromised, particularly in the event of any potential conflict between individuals having to share the same lawyer.

Indeed, your own Human Rights Act, at section 22 (2), provides for anyone, albeit charged with a criminal offence-nevertheless, this is a general principle-to be entitled to a number of minimum guarantees, equally with everyone else. These include:

to be told, if he or she does not have legal assistance, about the right to legal assistance chosen by him or her;

to have legal assistance provided to him or her, if the interests of justice require that the assistance be provided, and to have the legal assistance provided without payment if he or she cannot afford to pay for the assistance;

The coroner has also raised concerns about conflict of interest, from the directions hearing on 16 June 2003. In light of that, do you agree that, if there is any likelihood of conflict of interest or an individual's representation being compromised at the coroner's inquest, an individual should have his/her own barrister? If so, will you provide legal representation to all witnesses who ask for it?

MR STANHOPE: It is an important issue. We have spoken, on successive days this week, on the question of appropriate legal representation for people appearing before the coronial inquest. As I have indicated in previous answers to this question, which has already been asked in the last couple of days, on advice from the department of justice, I took advice and accepted that we should not necessarily assume that the interests of the territory are indivisible from those of public sector employees or others who might be required to give evidence before the coronial inquest.

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