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Changes to funding of lengthy Commonwealth criminal trials

19 Dec 2014

Legal Aid NSW will stop funding lengthy Commonwealth criminal trials listed to start from April 2015, and will restrict its new grants of aid for such cases under changes reluctantly approved by its Board last week.

In last year's Commonwealth Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO), Legal Aid commissions were told of a $6.5m cut to the Expensive Commonwealth Criminal Cases Fund over four years. This week’s MYEFO has not reversed these.

These funding cuts combined with an unusually large number of complex and lengthy trials so far this financial year, mean Legal Aid NSW will also have to cut some services in family law cases and matters under Commonwealth civil legislation.

The Expensive Commonwealth Criminal Cases Fund, which pays for assigned cases over $40,000, was set up in 2000 because criminal cases are unpredictable and can involve high, one-off costs of complex trials.

Some cases can last more than six months or involve more than a dozen co-accused and trials are becoming more and more complex with the increasing use of electronic evidence and lengthy briefs.

Only five months into the current financial year, the Fund is exhausted, and all Legal Aid commissions are facing the challenge of how to pay for complex Commonwealth criminal cases for the next seven months.

For more details see Policy Bulletin 6/14.