Page 979 - Week 04 - Tuesday, 15 March 2005

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clarifies a number of points, such as that legal assistance can be provided only after an application is received. It puts a stop to the potential for people to apply for legal aid after a matter has been finalised. It will also ensure that private practitioners invoice the commission within six months. That will ensure that private practitioners will get their money promptly and will help the commission greatly in managing its finances.

For many years, the commonwealth has not taken up the position on the commission that is available to it. The commonwealth no longer wishes to be represented on the commission and the bill accordingly ensures that the commonwealth representative is deleted. The bill also ensures that the commission can now allocate a particular solicitor for a legally assisted person. The bill takes account of a person’s wishes that a certain solicitor be allocated to them. In practice, that is what usually occurs and the experience is that invariably, if a solicitor is prepared to do legal aid work and the clients wants them, that solicitor will be allocated to that person.

The opposition is happy to support this bill. It should make a positive difference to the work of the Legal Aid Office and it should provide additional practical assistance to the clients of that office.

MS MacDONALD (Brindabella) (10.46): I want to speak briefly on the Legal Aid Amendment Bill 2005. Mr Speaker, this bill contains a number of amendments that will assist the Legal Aid Commission to maintain better control over its liabilities and to provide a greater ranger of services to its clients.

I would like to highlight the provision that the commission may provide minor legal assistance. As Mr Stanhope said when he tabled the bill in February, this minor assistance could make the world of difference to a client. A large percentage of the population have little or no understanding of the intricacies of the law, but the Legal Aid Commission can now provide minor legal assistance, which could be contacting someone, writing a letter or helping a client fill out a form. In an already stressed situation, this added assistance could be a huge help to clients.

Each case involves huge amounts of paperwork. Overlooking or filling out a form incorrectly can make a big difference to the outcome of certain cases. While I have no doubt that the commission is already providing such assistance to its clients—in fact, I am quite certain of that from having had officers of the commission appear before the legal affairs committee for the annual reports hearings last Friday—this bill further expands the options available to the commission in providing assistance by clarifying that the commission may provide minor legal assistance.

Mr Speaker, I believe that it is also important that the bill clarifies that legal assistance may be granted only after an application is received. That will make it easier for the commission to manage its finances. These are all quite small amendments, but they will have a large impact on the way in which the Legal Aid Commission provides its valuable services to the ACT community and, as such, I commend the bill for the amendments it makes to the act.

DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (10.48): Mr Speaker, this bill picks up on a number of fairly small restrictions in the act which, taken together, have acted as an impediment to the work of the Legal Aid Office. It makes the consequent changes that will allow the office

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