Most people know that the Legal Aid Commission provides free legal advice and representation to low income earners and people in prison.
Many people also know that the quality of legal representation by legal aid lawyers can be affected by:
- legal aid duty lawyers being required to represent up to 30 clients in a single day, meeting most clients for the first time on the morning of court;
- cases frequently being passed from legal aid lawyer to legal aid lawyer, making it difficult for any particular lawyer to effectively handle the case; and
- legal aid lawyers having an extremely high case-load, making it impossible to spend the time required to undertake an effective defence, including drafting proper submissions for withdrawal of cases, negotiating with the prosecution, issuing broad subpoenae, undertaking views of relevant locations, thoroughly conferencing witnesses and obtaining statements, engaging relevant experts, effectively preparing for hearings and trials etc.
Additionally, many legal aid lawyers simply don’t have the necessary experience to handle many of the serious criminal cases they are given.
This is not the fault of legal aid lawyers.
Rather, reductions in government funding have made it impossible for the Legal Aid Commission to employ enough high quality lawyers to handle the growing workload.
Fortunately, the Legal Aid Commission is able to ‘assign’ (give) certain cases to private criminal lawyers in Sydney.
This means that legal aid can pay private lawyers to undertake criminal cases for ‘eligible persons’.
Am I an ‘eligible person’?
Legal Aid will often assign a case to a private criminal lawyer if:
- the defendant is on a Centrelink, in prison or on a low income; and
- a legal aid lawyer is not available to undertake the case; OR
- there are other circumstances that justify giving the case to a private criminal lawyer, for example:
- legal aid is representing a ‘co-accused’ and there is therefore a ‘conflict of interest’; or
- the client has developed a very strong connection with the private lawyer and would not have faith in a legal aid lawyer, for instance,
- if the person suffers from a mental condition and has faith in the private lawyer, and/or
- the person and private lawyer have a shared background, language or culture, and/or
- the person has had very bad experiences with legal aid lawyers or the criminal justice system in the past and would find it difficult to connect with a legal aid lawyer etc.
Do I have an eligible case?
Legal Aid is available for criminal and driving cases where there is a prospect of a prison sentence – including criminal cases such as drug supply / manufacture / importation, assaults, sex offences, break and enters, robberies, frauds, kidnapping, larceny, murder, etc and serious driving cases such as dangerous driving, police pursuits (Skye’s law’) etc.
Legal Aid is not normally available for drink driving or AVO cases.
How can I apply for legal aid to pay a private criminal lawyer?
Applying for an ‘assignment of legal aid’ to Sydney Criminal Lawyers® is easy.
Simply call us for a free first appointment and let one of our experienced criminal lawyers discuss your case and fill out an ‘online legal aid application’ for assignment to our firm.
It is our policy that all legal aid cases are given equal importance to privately funded cases.
We work hard to have cases ‘dropped’ at an early stage or, if the evidence is very strong, to negotiate less-serious charges and produce superior outcomes.
If cases proceed towards a defended hearing or jury trial, our criminal lawyers will undertake through preparations, including:
- Engaging relevant experts and obtaining reports (which can be paid by the Legal Aid Commission),
- Issuing broad subpoenae, the cost of which is also paid by Legal Aid,
- Undertaking views of incident scenes,
- Undertaking conferences with clients, witnesses etc,
- Formulating defence strategies in consultation with our team and relevant experts, and all work necessary to produce winning results.