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Policy Bulletin 2020 / 1 (Private Practitioner Fees – Local Court and Children’s Court Summary matters and Travel)

20 Dec 2019

On 3 December 2019, the Legal Aid NSW Board approved changes to the Legal Aid NSW Fee Scale. The fee changes relate to Local Court State summary crime and Children’s Court summary crime matters and travel entitlements. This is the first stage of the private lawyer fee changes.

Background

In early 2019, Legal Aid NSW finalised a business case seeking funding from Government to enable it to increase private lawyer fees. The business case proposed reform of the Fee Scale, including increasing the hourly rate and making structural changes. During the preparation of the business case, Legal Aid NSW consulted with the Law Society of NSW, the NSW Bar Association and a number of individual private practitioners.

In November 2019, the Attorney General for New South Wales announced the allocation of funding to Legal Aid NSW of $87.7 million over the next four and a half years for matters covered by State law.  One of the changes will include an increase to the hourly rate over the next four years.

The fee changes are part of broader set of initiatives about how we will engage with and support private lawyers. We will have more information for private lawyers about these changes next year.

What fees have changed?

The first of the private lawyer fee changes includes a change to the Local Court State summary crime and Children’s Court summary crime fees. Local Court and Children’s Court defended hearings will be paid as a lump sum amount. The lump sum amount will cover all preparation, hearing time (including any mentions) and conferences with clients and witnesses. The lump sum means private lawyers can claim the fees in one application making the grants administration for private lawyers much more efficient. The lump sum amount is $1,100.

Further funding will only be provided in the most extraordinary of circumstances. There will be published guidelines setting out the types of circumstances Legal Aid NSW will consider to be extraordinary.

This new fee scale replaces the current “Start Up Grant” currently available for defended hearings.

Travel entitlements

The first stage of changes also includes a change to travel allowances. The kilometre amount has been aligned to the ATO recommended amount of $0.68 per kilometre. The current lump sum fee for travel time has been changed to an hourly rate in recognition of the long distances that are travelled by private lawyers in rural and regional NSW. This part of the change only applies to grants of aid at this time.

The fee rate for gaol and juvenile detention centres visits is not changing at this time.

Where are the changes?

The changes are set out in the Legal Aid NSW Fee Scale for Local Court and Children’s Court criminal matters.

Commencement date

The change to Local Court and Children’s Court summary crime matters applies to applications submitted on or after 1 January 2020.

The change to travel allowances applies to work done on or after 1 January 2020.

Contact for further information

Please contact the Mary Whitehead, Manager Strategic Projects on 9219 5114 or mary.whitehead@legalaid.nsw.gov.au  or the Aideen McGarrigle, Manager Client Eligibility Unit for any questions about the change on Aideen.mcgarrigle@legalaid.nsw.gov.au or 9219 5701.