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Preferred supplier newsletter—March 2019

This month

  • Financial information for clients in custody
  • Obtaining money from legally-aided clients
  • Upcoming CPD event

Financial information for clients in custody

Following queries from some duty lawyers, we want to clarify our policy for verifying financial eligibility for prisoners in summary or standard committal matters.

Current policy for verifying financial eligibility for prisoners in summary or standard committal matters

 Where the request for aid relates to summary proceedings or standard committal grants and the client is in custody:

  • The application is assessed based on the financial information provided by the client when they complete the form. 
  • If the client discloses information on the form that raises questions about financial eligibility (for example significant assets), LAQ Grants will follow up on these matters with the client.
  • In all other cases further verification material, such as bank statements, is not needed.

If a matter proceeds beyond the initial stages or is an expensive case, we will ask for additional financial verification material at that stage.

Duty lawyer response

When attending court as a duty lawyer, applications should be completed with clients in custody at the first available opportunity and e-lodged immediately to ensure timely processing of applications during the adjournment period. When submitting an application, the duty lawyer must ensure:

  • the application for aid meets the applicable guidelines and merits tests applied to the particular application category
  • the client has completed all of the required financial eligibility details on the form and signed the application form (do not strike through the financial section)
  • in-custody applicants indicate on the form if they received a full Centrelink benefit before being remanded in custody  (for example “Previously received Newstart allowance”)
  • the application is e-lodged immediately.

Obtaining money from legally-aided clients

Last month, we highlighted the relevant clauses in the preferred supplier agreement that address the issue of not seeking payment from legally-aided clients and gave you an example of what you should do when a client has a grant of aid for their substantive criminal law matter and seeks to engage your firm on a private basis for the bail application. Thank you to the firms that have been following this process and complying with their reporting obligations. 

We’d like to remind firms these clauses (4.6, 4.7, 4.8 and 4.9) in the preferred supplier agreement are actually reflective of requirements set out in the Legal Aid Queensland Act. 

Under section 40(4) of the Legal Aid Queensland Act 1979, if Legal Aid gives a person legal assistance under an agreement with a Legal Aid service provider, the service provider may receive only the an amount decided by Legal Aid as the fee for the service.  A maximum penalty of 100 penalty units or 2 years imprisonment applies.

It is important firms realise the importance of complying with the preferred supplier agreement and in turn, not committing an offence under the Legal Aid Queensland Act. 

Generally speaking, the grant of aid will cover you for all work you need to do and extensions of aid should also be requested when needed. If a grant of aid is refused, firms should ensure the client is aware of their appeal rights under the external review system. 

In signing the preferred supplier agreement, firms have agreed to comply with all applicable provisions of the Legal Aid Queensland Act and have agreed  the payment rate for legal aid work performed by the firm, counsel, other services providers and disbursements will be in line with the grant of legal assistance and the scale of fees. You must not obtain additional “top up” style funding from clients, including for such things as:

  • further preparation
  • extra prison visits 
  • bail variations
  • travel
  • disbursements.

The Grants Policy Manual and Grants Handbook set out the type of matters LAQ provides funding for and the eligibility criteria. The Grants teams will assess all applications and extensions for aid and can help firms to understand the policies. 

The practice and case management standards also set out the minimum standards of work needed to ensure consistent service delivery to clients and to help firms achieve an efficient and effective practice. Practice management standards relevant to this issue include:

1.1(b) A grant of aid to a client is not be used as a tool for negotiation or argument.
1.2(e) Any information which may impact on the merit or financial eligibility of a person with a grant of legal aid is reported to Legal Aid Queensland.
3.1(b) Clients are assisted in applying for a grant of aid or an extension of aid. An explanation of the terms of the grant of aid should include the application process, cost contribution if levied and the procedure to have the decision reviewed.
3.1(c) Clients are referred to an appropriate alternative if Legal Aid is unable to assist the person.
4.1(a) A relevant grant of aid exists at all times. In instances where aid has been granted for two or more matters, separate files are opened for each matter.

Upcoming CPD events

For all upcoming CPD events please refer to the For Lawyers section on Legal Aid Queensland website.

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