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The importance of Legal Aid in Criminal Matters

Having legal representation in legal proceedings is highly important, even more so in criminal proceedings where there may be a risk of imprisonment. The role of a solicitor in criminal matters is multifaceted, but can involve the following:

  1. Ensuring that the charges you are facing are accurate;
  2. Ensuring there is adequate evidence disclosed by the Prosecution to pursue the charges against you;
  3. Negotiating with the Prosecution as to a withdrawal of downgrade your charges;
  4. Representing you at Court, both at hearings, applications or trial and getting your side of the story across to the Judge and/or Jury; and
  5. Generally providing you with competent advice as to what course of action you should take.

Failure to engage a solicitor may result in a less than favourable outcome for you. Whilst the role of a solicitor in criminal proceedings is generally accepted as being vital, for some the cost of hiring a solicitor is too great.

In circumstances where you cannot afford a private solicitor, the Legal Services Commission of South Australia is able to pay for a solicitor on your behalf by way of a scheme called Legal Aid.

What is Legal Aid?

Legal Aid is a scheme provided by the legal services commission in each state in Australia in the areas of criminal, family and civil law matters. Legal Aid is separate to the legal assistance available free-of-charge to everyone through free brochures, information sessions or telephone legal advice.

In effect, the Legal Aid scheme allows you to receive legal representation with you only being required to pay a minimal contribution towards that service. The contribution is determined by the Commission as being how much you can reasonably afford to pay in the circumstances.

Am I eligible for Legal Aid?

Due to funding constraints, some limitations are placed on the granting of Legal Aid. Accordingly, in order to be eligible for Legal Aid you must pass the Means, Merit and Forum tests.

Means Test

The Means Test determines how much a person with any given income and assets can afford to pay for necessary legal services. The Means Test will consider your income and your assets and you will be required to disclose details of all your assets and your income. Generally, this means disclosing your bank statements and payslips/Centrelink Income Statements for the last two (2) months.

Merit Test

The Commission must also be satisfied that your legal matter involved is an appropriate expenditure of public legal aid funds. If your matter has no reasonable prospects of success, legal aid is likely to be refused. For serious criminal matters where you wish to plead not guilty, you must be able to prove the existence of a “reasonably arguable” defence in order for legal aid to be granted. In the event no prospect of success is outlined, the Commission is likely to only grant legal aid for a guilty plea.

Forum Test

The Commission will only grant legal aid for cases to be heard in South Australia.

How do I apply for Legal Aid?

You can apply for Legal Aid through the Legal Services Commission of South Australia or you can contact a solicitor who takes on Legal Aid cases and they will apply for aid on your behalf. Make sure to bring a copy of your bank statements and payslips/Centrelink Income Statements for the last two (2) months when applying for aid.

Can Georgiadis Lawyers help me?

Although we are a private law firm, Georgiadis Lawyers is also proud to take on Legal Aid Criminal Law work. If you wish to be represented by Georgiadis Lawyers rather than a lawyer appointed by the Commission, we can take on your case at no extra cost to you.

Our experienced Criminal Lawyers can represent you in any plea of guilty granted through Legal Aid. All you need to do is get in contact with us as soon as possible to make sure your Legal Aid application is processed in time for your first Court appearance.

Today's blog article has been written by

Today's blog article has been written by

Dimitri Panayotopoulos

Associate
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