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Key developments

  • Legal assistance funding for expensive Commonwealth indictable matters
  • Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (Improved Oversight and Resourcing) Bill 2014
  • Draft Uniform Torrens Title Act
  • Rule 58: Solicitors advising on loan and security documents

Legal assistance funding for expensive Commonwealth indictable matters

The Criminal Law Committee has written to the Commonwealth Attorney-General to express its concerns about the recent cuts to legal aid funding, which are likely to have a significant detrimental effect on both the accused and the administration of justice in complex Commonwealth criminal law matters.

In the 2013 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, the Government announced a significant cut in the Expensive Commonwealth Criminal Cases Fund (ECCCF). Following this reduction, the amount available in the ECCCF has been reduced from $10.8 million in 2013-2014 to $2.7 million in 2014-2015.
As a result, Legal Aid NSW has had to restrict funding for new expensive Commonwealth indictable matters and for cases where aid has already been granted for trials listed after 1 April 2015 while short Commonwealth indictable matters will be funded,

Legal Aid NSW policy states that funding will not be available if there is one accused person and the trial is listed for more than 10 days.

If there are two co-accused persons, and the trial is listed for more than five days, it will also not be funded. Legal aid is not available for a trial in which there are more than three co-accused.

Given that the average number of trial hearing days in Commonwealth criminal matters is 28.3 days, cuts to funding may well lead to an increase in Dietrich applications to courts, the effect being that trials may be stayed, with considerable uncertainty and delay in the conduct of prosecutions. This would affect not only the accused, but victims and the community at large.

The committee respectfully submitted that the Commonwealth Government should restore its share of legal aid funding to 50 per cent.

The committee observed that legal assistance funding is particularly critical in a time where new Commonwealth national security laws have been implemented.

The Committee notes that Legal Aid NSW has recently announced that if a Public Defender is briefed in a matter expected to last more than 10 days which involves a single accused, the CEO may determine that legal aid is available.

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