Page 980 - Week 04 - Tuesday, 15 March 2005

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to operate more effectively and, I hope, show a little more flexibility in providing targeted support.

In effect, the bill provides the commission with more options for providing assistance, including the capacity to provide minor legal assistance without applicants needing to qualify, as they would if the commission were covering the whole of the matter. Applications for minor legal assistance, for example, now no longer need to be applied for in writing and the arrangements for contributing to the costs of providing such minor legal assistance are more flexible.

The general area of engaging private legal practitioners also has been simplified to some extent, including a requirement for such practitioners to give an invoice for services in a more timely fashion. This bill also makes clear that the commission is not obliged to pay legal fees for services provided before the person applies for legal aid.

There is a range of other amendments in the bill, several of which take account of changed practices, such as the deletion of references to legal aid committees and the delegation of the commission’s power to make appointments. The work of legal aid is critical to our system of justice and we will be supporting the bill.

MR STANHOPE (Ginninderra—Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for the Environment and Minister for Arts, Heritage and Indigenous Affairs) (10.50), in reply: I thank members for their support of this bill. The bill contains a number of amendments essentially aimed at helping the Legal Aid Commission to maintain better control over its liabilities and provide a greater range of services to its clients.

The Legal Aid Commission, through the Legal Aid Office, has a well-established role in the provision of legal assistance for those facing disadvantage in our community. The legal rights of those who are less well off in our society deserve the same protection as the legal rights of those who are better off. Access to justice should not be dependent on one’s income. By providing services to people who are otherwise unable to obtain them, the Legal Aid Office is directly addressing this need.

The Legal Aid Office provides a high-quality service to the people of the ACT and these amendments will assist the Legal Aid Commission to improve that service. One of the way in which the bill does that is through allowing legal assistance to be granted for discrete actions in the court process as well as whole matters. Legal aid may be appropriate to pursue general access arrangements in a family law matter, but not to pursue an unreasonable view on access.

The options available to the commission in providing assistance are expanded by clarifying that the commission may provide minor legal assistance, such as writing a letter for a client or assisting a client to fill in a form. The other important theme of these amendments is the enhancing of the ability of the Legal Aid Commission to maintain good financial control over its liabilities. The Legal Aid Commission has finite resources. These amendments will allow the commission to maintain greater control over the provision of legal assistance by allowing the commission to issue directions requiring that particular types of applications be referred directly to the commission for decision.

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