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Communtity Law Manual | Legal aid | Other legal assistance in criminal cases

Other legal assistance in criminal cases

Duty lawyers: Free legal help on your first day in court

What is a duty lawyer?

Duty lawyers are available at District Courts to assist unrepresented people appearing in court that day.

What can the duty lawyer help me with?

Duty lawyers can assist people by:

  • explaining the nature and seriousness of a charge
  • advising the defendant whether they have a defence to a charge
  • providing information about the range of sentences that the court may impose for a charge
  • advising unrepresented defendants about plea, the possibility of a remand without plea, and the right to elect to be tried by a jury
  • explaining what happens after a defendant pleads guilty/not guilty to a charge
  • advising people on how to apply for legal aid and assisting them to complete legal aid applications.

Duty lawyers can help people have their matter remanded until they have their own lawyer or can act for people on simple matters.

If person wishes to be represented by the duty lawyer, the lawyer can assist to:

  • enter a guilty plea and present sentencing submissions on behalf of a defendant (if their sentencing can be dealt with on that day)
  • enter a not guilty plea
  • apply for name and detail suppression orders for lower-level charges
  • assist with certain bail matters.

Duty lawyer and bail applications

Bail applications can pose problems for duty lawyers who have limited time for each person they must help. If a person makes a bail application and it is refused, they cannot make another unless there is a significant change in their circumstances. Sometimes duty lawyers will tell people to wait in custody until they have their own lawyer who can take more time to make their bail application.

Duty lawyers will assist unrepresented defendants with straight-forward bail applications, unless:

  • it’s one of those cases where the law says it’s up to the defendant to satisfy the judge that they should get bail (for bail, see the chapter “The criminal courts”)
  • The defendant is subject to an order under the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992 or the Intellectual Disability (Compulsory Care and Rehabilitation) Act 2003
  • Further enquiries (such as a bail address) are required before bail will be granted and those enquiries are beyond the resources of the duty lawyer.

If they cannot provide further help, the duty lawyer will assist the unrepresented person to file an urgent legal aid application.

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