Getting legal help: Legal aid and other help schemes
Duty lawyers: Free legal advice on your first day in court
If you've been charged with a criminal offence and you don't have a lawyer to represent you in court, you should see the duty lawyer at court before the hearing. This is a free lawyer who can advise you and represent you on that first day. After that, you'll need to get a lawyer on the legal aid scheme (see the chapter “Legal aid”).
What can the duty lawyer help me with?
Duty lawyers are usually at the court about an hour before court begins and can help you with matters such as:
- identifying how serious the charge is and what sentence you might get if you are convicted
- deciding whether to plead guilty or not guilty
- identifying whether you have a possible defence to the charge
- applying for bail
- asking for the case to be put off (remanded) to give time for further legal advice, a legal aid application to be made, or to obtain full disclosure from the police
- helping you to apply for legal aid, and giving you advice if you need to do this
- if you are pleading guilty to an offence that is not too serious, presenting your circumstances to the judge and advocating for the best realistic outcome for you.
Duty lawyers usually can't represent you if you plead not guilty
Duty lawyers do not normally represent defendants who are pleading not guilty. Someone who is pleading not guilty will usually have to get a lawyer to represent them, either at their own cost or by applying for legal aid (see the chapter “Legal aid”).
However, duty lawyers are available for some court dates after not guilty pleas have been entered – for example, at family (domestic) violence list hearings for people who aren't eligible for legal aid and who cannot or don't want to engage a lawyer but who want to maintain their not guilty plea. Duty lawyers aren't available to represent defendants at trials.