The legal aid funding crisis in Victoria shows no sign of letting up after a judge summoned a Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) representative to court to explain its decision not to fund a defendant accused of attempted murder.
Yesterday (26 February) in the Supreme Court, Justice Betty King briefly stood the matter down and ordered a VLA representative to attend court to answer questions over its funding restrictions.
It marks the third criminal trial in recent weeks at risk of being put on hold, possibly indefinitely, following VLA cutbacks.
VLA said the case did not meet its new guidelines for additional counsel, but added it is to review its decision to refuse funding for a full-time instructing solicitor in the case.
According to ABC News, Justice King challenged VLA over the cuts, saying: “It costs a lot more to have this court’s time wasted than it does to provide an instructing solicitor.”
“It really would be a false economy for the community, which is what this is supposed to be about,” she added.
Critics of the VLA funding restrictions argue that it is necessary for an accused to have both a barrister and an instructing solicitor in order to receive a fair trial.
This latest development follows hot on the heels of two separate Supreme Court stays of major criminal trials in recent weeks.
Last week, the judge presiding over a murder trial put it on hold following an urgent application by the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) to test the decision not to fund a solicitor for the accused.
On 18 February, Justice Terry Forrest stayed the major trial after the LIV intervened claiming the trial is at risk due to a VLA decision not to fund an instructing solicitor for the man accused of murder.
LIV president Reynah Tang (pictured) has said the legal aid system in Victoria is in crises and recent court decisions are just a reflection of that.
Tang has called on the Victorian Government to intervene.
He has urged Attorney-General Robert Clark to convene a meeting of affected parties including VLA, the Victorian Bar, the LIV and the affected courts, including the Family Court of Australia, the Supreme Court, the County Court and the Children’s Court.
Tang added he was worried VLA seemed to be discounting the judgments by two Supreme Court judges that outlined the extensive role of instructing solicitors in trials and was surprised that VLA was encouraging the DPP to appeal the Supreme Court decisions, which can only lead to further delay and expense in criminal trials.