Help at court
We have lawyers at all local courts and at many other courts and tribunals across NSW. These ‘duty lawyers’ help people who have a matter at court that day who do not have their own lawyer. Duty lawyers either work for Legal Aid NSW or are private lawyers paid by Legal Aid NSW to help you.
Other types of help are also available at court. Women's Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Services assist women and children experiencing domestic violence at many local courts around NSW. Youth workers from the Children's Court Assistance Scheme assist young people appearing in the Children's Court.
It is best to get legal advice before you go to court. Call the free legal help line LawAccess NSW on 1300 888 529 to find an advice service or search for a Legal Aid NSW service near you.
- Who can use a duty lawyer?
Anyone can approach a duty lawyer for assistance at court. However, the duty lawyer can only give you limited help on the day of your matter. If your matter is more complicated, the duty lawyer may be able to help you get an adjournment (put off your matter to a later date) so that you have a chance to get legal advice or representation.
- What can a duty lawyer do for me?
A duty lawyer may be able to:
- give you advice about your matter
- explain what might happen in court about your matter
- help you to get an adjournment (to put off your matter to a later date, so you have time to get legal advice)
- talk to the court/tribunal or other parties on your behalf
- speak for you in court in most criminal matters.
There are limits on what the duty lawyer can do for you. For example, in a criminal matter they cannot represent you in court if you have pleaded ‘not guilty’ and your matter is listed for hearing that day. In family law matters they cannot represent you in an Interim Hearing if your matter is listed for hearing that day. However, they would be able to help you negotiate an interim settlement.
If you need help or seek to be represented in a hearing matter, you should speak to a lawyer from Legal Aid NSW or a lawyer who does legal aid work, well before your hearing date (see Legal advice).
- Do I have to pay?
No. Seeing a duty lawyer is free. However, most people who receive a grant of aid will have to pay a contribution towards the cost of the matter. The amount you have to pay depends on how much you earn and how much you own.
- Do I need to be eligible for legal aid for a duty lawyer to help?
You don't need to be eligible for legal aid if the duty lawyer is only providing you with advice or if it is your first appearance and you are in custody. However, if the duty lawyer is representing you in court you will generally need to be eligible for legal aid.
- Where does Legal Aid NSW have duty lawyers?
We have duty lawyers at all local courts in NSW and in many other courts and tribunals across NSW.
- Can I get an interpreter or other communication help?
Yes. Legal words are sometimes hard to understand. If English is not your first language, you may want to have an interpreter to help you at court. Auslan interpreters are also available. In many cases the court pays for the interpreter. Contact the court that you are attending to arrange an interpreter. If the court decides that an interpreter or Auslan interpreter is required they may adjourn the matter to a later date.
If you need an interpreter to see one of our lawyers before you go to court contact your nearest Legal Aid NSW office and we will help to arrange this.
- How should I prepare for court?
Before coming to court you should:
- collect and bring all paperwork you have about your matter e.g. in criminal law matters - police factsheets and character references; in family law matters - copies of any orders and other court documents; in civil matters - copies of any letters or penalty notices relevant to your legal matter
- turn up to the court/tribunal an hour before your matter – you may need to wait a bit to see the duty lawyer
- make sure you have the whole day free. Some courts list all matters at the same time so you may have to wait a few hours before the court hears your matter. You should check this with the court.
- let the court know if you need an interpreter or other assistance
- bring a friend or family member for support if you want to.
- What if I need more help?
The duty lawyer may not be able to finish your case on the day that you appear in court. If your matter is more complicated, the duty lawyer may be able to help you get an adjournment (put off your matter to a later date) so that you have a chance to get legal advice or representation.
If you need more legal help, duty lawyers from Legal Aid NSW may be able to assist or assist you to apply for legal aid for a lawyer to run your case.
We may also be able to refer you to other services that can help.
- I'm Aboriginal. Who can help me?
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can get help from Legal Aid NSW duty lawyers or Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) lawyers.