A WANGARATTA lawyer has been forced to apply for an adjournment in a criminal trial as cuts in legal aid funding start to bite in the North East.
Criminal defence lawyer Geoff Clancy will seek an adjournment in the Wangaratta County Court on Monday.
He believes the defendant will not get fair representation without an instructing solicitor for the duration of the “complex case”.
The case cannot be detailed for legal reasons.
Victorian Legal Aid introduced a range of cuts to eligibility guidelines last month including capping instructing solicitor fees in indictable crime trials to two half days.
Mr Clancy said the service was overstretched and responsibility for the cuts rested with the Victorian government.
“If Legal Aid could fund these matters properly they would,” he said.
If the Baillieu government was going to fulfil its “tough on crime” policies, including an extra 1700 police, needed to also bolster legal services to cater for the extra people who would need representation.
“The government is only funding one half of law and order,” Mr Clancy said.
“If they’re going to run on a platform of getting more police resources on the street, the flow-on effect is there are going to be far more people requiring legal aid.”
Mr Clancy’s application for an adjournment comes after two criminal trials in the Supreme Court in Melbourne were stayed until Legal Aid could provide the defendants instructing solicitors for the duration of the trials.
Wodonga lawyer Mario Vaccaro said ripples of the cuts were being felt in the Wodonga courthouse but more concerning was the fact more changes in the eligibility guidelines had yet to come in.
Legal Aid has flagged that in some matters, only those facing imprisonment would be eligible for legal assistance.
Mr Vaccaro, who has worked in the region for almost 35 years, said it impeded the basic right to a fair trial.
“It’s a very onerous situation for the client and it puts a lot of pressure on the court,” he said.
Defendants would have to pay a lawyer or represent themselves.
Mr Vaccaro said it was difficult for the average person to navigate the legal system and defendants could wind up with substantial community correction orders or a conviction that would affect their lives forever.
He has been doing more pro bono work since the cuts but would have to find more private work to fund the gap in his own wage as Legal Aid work reduces.
“It’s a question of how it impacts your livelihood but also how it impacts people who need representation,” he said.
Legal Aid said the changes were necessary to ensure services remained financially sustainable in the face of record demand.