Page 327 - Week 01 - Thursday, 11 December 2008

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MR CORBELL: Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I thank Ms Le Couteur for the question. Yes, I have met with the Chief Executive of the ACT Legal Aid Commission in the last few weeks. I am advised that the level of reserves available to ACT Legal Aid is being drawn down, but there are a couple of provisos around that that are important to clarify. The first is that Legal Aid receives resources from two sources—from the ACT government for matters relating to general law in the ACT—ACT law—and then it also receives payments for the commonwealth for provision of legal aid on commonwealth law matters only.

In relation to its reserves related to commonwealth matters, those reserves are, I am advised by the Chief Executive of the Legal Aid Commission, adequate. The difficulty, of course, is that those reserves cannot be utilised for non-commonwealth matters, and this is a matter which I and other Attorneys-General are raising with the commonwealth at this time. The commonwealth Attorney-General is open to the more effective utilisation of funds across both state, territory and commonwealth matters, and I hope that we will see a good outcome there.

In relation to the current state of play for the Legal Aid Commission’s budget, the key issue is whether supplementation is provided to deal with a number of lengthy and significant criminal matters in the coming months. These are exceptional circumstances, the most particular one being the retrial in the Hillier case, which will be a lengthy murder trial of approximately two months duration. Mr Hillier is represented by Legal Aid on the matter and given the complexity of the case and the fact that it is a retrial, the government will probably have to provide supplementation given the exceptional circumstances in that case. That is a matter that the government is giving consideration to at the moment.

But, aside from those exceptional circumstances, I am advised by the Chief Executive of the Legal Aid Commission that they do have sufficient funds to meet the demand for the remainder of this financial year. The key issue is the exceptional circumstances surrounding the Hillier matter, and the government is giving consideration to that at the moment.

MR SPEAKER: A supplementary, Ms Le Couteur?

MS LE COUTEUR: Mr Corbell, again it has been brought to our attention that people are being forced to represent themselves on criminal matters because Legal Aid does not have the resources to provide representation. Could you comment on that?

MR CORBELL: I am advised by the Chief Executive of Legal Aid that there has been no substantial change to the guidelines that Legal Aid use in determining whether or not to provide a grant of legal aid. So I am not aware of that claim by Ms Le Couteur being substantiated.

The other issue that the Chief Executive of the Legal Aid Commission has raised with me in the last couple of weeks is that the price of procuring a service from the private profession and grants of legal aid to pay lawyers in private practice to represent accused persons are going up. The private profession is charging more and grants of

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