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Bush courts lose lawyers as Legal Aid backs out

Bush courts lose lawyers as Legal Aid backs out

A Darwin magistrate has raised concerns about people facing court without legal representation as Legal Aid backs out of bush courts.

Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission lawyer Ambrith Abayasekara told the Darwin Magistrates Court that due to budget restraints Legal Aid could no longer represent a Wadeye man facing charges of violence, ABC News reports.

The lawyer told the court that Legal Aid lawyers cannot work at bush courts such as Wadeye in the Northern Territory because it could not afford to.

Magistrate Tanya Fong Lim asked the lawyer whether this meant those people facing serious charges are going to court without legal representation, and the lawyer replied that this was correct.

The comments come after the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency last month said it has to “pick up the slack” because Legal Aid can no longer afford to represent clients at bush courts.

NAAJA principal solicitor, Jonathon Hunyor, said it is blowing the organisation’s budget.

“Our brief out budget will probably have run out by the end of the year if not early next year,” he said.

“We’re very concerned that people will either be unrepresented and be unable to put their case or they will feel compelled to plead guilty to something that they may not have done or many not even properly understand.”

The Justice Minister Delia Lawrie said the Territory Legal Aid Commission and the Department of Justice are negotiating funding requirements, ABC News reports.

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