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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 13 Hansard (9 December) . . Page.. 4287 ..

Amendment agreed to.

MR HUMPHRIES (Treasurer, Attorney-General and Minister for Justice and Community Safety) (3.40 am): Mr Speaker, I move amendment No. 2 circulated in my name. It reads as follows:

Page 21, line 10, after proposed new section 45, insert the following section:

"45A Legal fees

A legal practitioner must neither charge nor seek to recover in respect of a proceeding under this Act an amount by way of fees that exceeds the amount allowable under the regulations.".

Mr Speaker, amendments No. 2 and No. 3 are related. Again this stems from a recommendation of the standing committee that there be a cap on the amount that solicitors are able to charge in respect of their processing of criminal injuries compensation claims. That is set out in Schedule 3. The amount concerned is to be set under this arrangement, as a regulation which can be changed from time to time, at $650.

MS TUCKER (3.41 am): We have concerns about this amendment. As I have already said, I would have liked to have had this debate adjourned so as to have time to look at these issues. We cannot support this. In the time we have had to look at it we have come to the conclusion that $650 is too low a cap for legal services. Fees in the New South Wales scheme, for example, are capped at $750. The difference between these systems is that appearance at court is not required in New South Wales. This new legislation has tightened up eligibility requirements significantly, particularly for applicants seeking significant reparation. While the Government may attest that it will only appear and contest cases which are highly dubious, we do not know for sure that that will always be the case. While there may not be so many applications for assistance in the future, a higher proportion of those applications may well require quality support and representation in the preparation of papers and reports, and on occasion an appearance at court. What does a victim of crime get for $650? Not someone with any great level of experience, you can be sure of that, and this figure, once set, is probably not likely to rise easily.

By way of comparison, Legal Aid in Canberra, which also enjoys a capped fee structure, has had more and more people dropping out recently, not because they had hoped to get rich on the legal aid they provide but because it is becoming untenable for them to continue to contribute.

We will oppose this amendment because fee capping at such a low level may repercuss badly on victims of crime, particularly in complex cases and where appearance at court is called for.

MR STANHOPE (Leader of the Opposition) (3.42 am): I am more concerned about the basis upon which the Attorney defined the figure of $650.

Mr Humphries: Do you want me to tell you?

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