Judge blasts legal aid ‘masquerade’
After delivering scathing criticisms of the Victoria Police and the Legal Services Board, Victoria Supreme Court judge Betty King has directed her ire towards Victoria Legal Aid (VLA).
Justice King criticised the public defender for sending junior counsel to court who were unable to represent their client, according to reports by News Ltd.
During a recent pre-sentencing hearing for convicted murderer Scott Miller, senior VLA lawyer Stephen Payne fainted, forcing the court to adjourn as his junior was unable to proceed.
Justice King told VLA director Tim Marsh it was unacceptable that Mr Payne’s junior counsel could not step in to represent Mr Miller.
"It is a concern of the judges of this court that people who wish to put on the robes of counsel need to be able to undertake the role of counsel. It is not something you can masquerade as," she said.
In particular, she noted that the victim's parents, who had flown in from China for the hearing, would now miss watching Mr Miller's sentencing as the matter could be adjourned for weeks.
She claimed Supreme Court judges were becoming increasingly worried about the VLA’s briefing practices and noted she would raise her concerns with Chief Justice Marilyn Warren.
Justice King made headlines for her spirited criticisms of other legal authorities, including the Legal Services Board and Victoria Police, concerning delays caused in the investigation of multi-million dollar fraud by Alan Munt.
In the same case, she took the Law Institute of Victoria to task for its part in the Munt investigation, though acknowledging during sentencing that the LIV was not at fault for the delay.
In response to Justice King’s criticism, a spokesperson for Victoria Legal Aid defended its briefing practices, saying the body had rigorous processes in place.
“It would be unusual and expensive to have two senior public defenders or barristers allocated to a case,” she said.
“Generally the options for representation in a criminal law matter are counsel and instructing solicitor, or two co-counsel (senior and junior barrister).”