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Circuit court briefing policy

Purpose

The purpose of the policy is to ensure that counsel engaged to represent clients in criminal law circuit court matters is the best available counsel for the client's specific matter while ensuring that "legal assistance is given to persons in the most effective, economic, commercial and efficient way".1

Introduction

There are a number of areas throughout Queensland where circuit courts have been established for District and Supreme Court sittings to ensure:

  • the court is accessible to those in remote, rural and regional Queensland;
  • the efficient use of resources;
  • matters can be heard in a timely fashion;
  • quality of the court's output; and
  • more consistent decision-making 2

It is acknowledged that:

  • the effective and efficient conduct of circuit sittings is vital to the court's business;
  • judicial time is an expensive resource;
  • the assistance of both the crown and defence is vital to ensure the smooth running of circuits for all involved, particularly clients;
  • the role of circuit counsel is vital to the smooth running of courts;
  • matters listed on circuit matters vary in complexity and seriousness;
  • preparation and conferences by counsel for circuit matters are often undertaken during the circuit and after hours;
  • counsel is required to travel to and remain in the regional centres for the duration of the circuit which can be isolating both professionally and personally.

Scope

This policy relates to all matters heard on circuit court sittings in Queensland and applies to all Legal Aid Queensland lawyers employed in the in-house criminal law practice, preferred suppliers undertaking criminal law matters in circuit court areas and Legal Aid Queensland's Counsel Chambers.

Roles and responsibilities

Public Defender

  • Ensure counsel is appointed to all circuit court matters.
  • Determine whether in-house or external counsel is appointed.
  • Determine the number of counsel on each circuit court sitting.
  • Resolve any conflict of interest issues that arise.

Counsel

  • Prepare and appear on all matters listed.
  • Submit invoices in accordance with Legal Aid Queensland scale of fees within three months of circuit.

Instructing Solicitor

  • Instruct circuit counsel appointed.
  • Prepare brief to counsel in accordance with the Legal Aid Queensland Case management standards - criminal law.
  • Submit invoices to Legal Aid Queensland within three months of circuit.

Senior Chambers Officer

  • Establish the Circuit Court Calendar (available on Legal Aid Queensland website) each calendar year and update as required.
  • Obtain the call over list for circuits from the Queensland Courts service.
  • Conduct client searches to determine which matters have active grants of aid.
  • Determine any conflicts of interest in accordance with the Legal Aid Queensland Conflict of Interest Policy and the Conflict of Interest Policy - Grants of Aid for Criminal Law Co-accused Policy.
  • Arrange counsel for circuit court matters.
  • Advise the Grants Division of matters listed for circuit sittings.
  • Negotiate travel and accommodation for counsel in the most cost effective manner.
  • Advise Judges Associate, instructing solicitors, the court registry, DPP and grants officers who the counsel will be for circuit court matters.

Grants Officers

  • Issue grants of aid for solicitor and counsel for circuit court matters.
  • Certify invoices for solicitor and counsel for circuit court matters.

Definitions

Circuit Courts —
all Supreme and District Courts as listed in this policy.
Local Bar —
to be considered as "Local Bar" a barrister must have established chambers in the area, be competent as a barrister and be available to undertake District and Supreme Court circuit work and briefs from Legal Aid Queensland in-house lawyers, preferred supplier firms and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services. For the purposes of this definition, "area" is defined as the area which is serviced by the local Legal Aid Queensland office.
Conflict of Interest —
a conflict of interest should be determined having regard to the Legal Aid Queensland Conflict of Interest Policy and the Conflict of Interest Policy - Grants of Aid for Criminal Law Co-accused Policy.
Relevant regional office —
the relevant regional office will be the regional office that usually services the area where the particular circuit court is sitting.

Policy content —

  1. Legal Aid Queensland's Public Defender retains the sole authority to brief counsel for circuit sittings.
  2. Preference must be given to briefing in-house counsel for all circuits.
  3. Except in exceptional circumstances, only one counsel will be briefed for all legal aid matters listed for the circuit sittings. There may be some occasions where it would be prudent to allocate two counsel to a specific circuit, for example:
    • For efficiency purposes, particularly where the circuit is to be covered by in-house counsel; and
    • For professional development opportunities for new counsel, counsel acting in vacancies and readers-in-counsel to be paired with experienced counsel to learn about circuit practice and advocacy. 
    The Public Defender will determine any issues in relation to the number of counsel to attend a specific circuit.
  4. In pursuance of Legal Aid Queensland's endorsement of the Law Council of Australia Equitable Briefing Policy, all reasonable endeavours will be made by Legal Aid Queensland to identify female counsel who are available to be briefed for circuit sittings, and genuinely consider engaging such counsel.
  5. The In-house Counsel Chambers is responsible for administering circuits throughout Queensland.
  6. The Senior Chambers Officer will make the necessary enquiries regarding the briefing of counsel for particular circuit sittings, in consultation with the Principal Lawyer of the relevant regional office.
  7. When determining the counsel to brief for a specific circuit sittings, the Senior Chambers Officer will have regard to the following factors in order to ensure adherence to the statutory obligation to deliver legal assistance in the most effective, economic, commercial and efficient way:
    • The nature of the circuit in question. This would involve
      • analysis of the matters listed and all relevant specific client factors and needs; and the seniority of prosecuting counsel, to inform a view about the level of experience and ability required by the circuit counsel to ensure, as far as possible, that the highest quality services are delivered.
    • Whether there would be benefits in briefing any private counsel previously briefed to represent any client in the list (e.g. the prior brief at committal stage). This may extend to counsel who have been involved in other stages of proceedings, such as pre-trial recording of evidence of a child complainant.
    • Whether there would be benefits in briefing counsel already engaged to privately represent a client in the list.
    • Whether there are benefits in briefing counsel based at the Local Bar.
    • Whether there are benefits in briefing counsel who may have appeared on prior circuits in the region, having regard also to the benefits of promoting the full use of the independent Bar and optimising opportunities for the development of counsel willing to undertake legally aided work.
    • Any other factors that will ensure adherence to the statutory obligation to deliver legal assistance in the most effective, economic, commercial and efficient way.

Circuit Courts

Court Circuit
Supreme Court Bundaberg
Maryborough
Mt Isa
District Court Bowen
Bundaberg
Cape
Charleville/Cunnamulla
Charters Towers
Dalby
Emerald
Gladstone
Goondiwindi
Gulf
Gympie
Hervey Bay
Innisfail
Kingaroy
Longreach
Maryborough
Mount Isa
Roma
Stanthorpe
Warwick

Consultation and approval

The Deputy CEO, Public Defender, deputy public defenders, Criminal Law Services director and assistant directors and the Senior Chambers Officer were consulted in developing this policy. The Executive Management Team approved this policy.

Communication

This policy will be made available on the Legal Aid Queensland intranet and website.

Issue date

January 2018

Review

This policy will be reviewed every 12 months

Policy owner

Public Defender

Legislative context/references

Legal Aid Queensland Act 1997

1. s43(a) of the Legal Aid Queensland Act 1997
2. http://www.courts.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/513035/dc-ar-2015-2016.pdf

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