|Description of this FunctionDescription of this Function|
Prior to the establishment of the Office of the Public Solicitor (VA 2282) in 1929 under the provisions of the Poor Persons Legal Assistance Act 1927 (No.3548), legal assistance in civil and matrimonial cases was granted in accordance with the rules of the Supreme Court and legal assistance to persons committed for trial for an indictable offence was granted by the Attorney General after consideration of an application for legal aid made by the accused to a judge of the Supreme Court, a chairman of a court of general sessions or to a police magistrate. (See also the Poor Persons Defence Act 1916 (No.2831) and the Crimes Act 1915 (No.2637 pt.v.)
The Public Solicitor provided legal aid (subject to a strict means test) in indictable criminal cases, divorce and matrimonial cases, and civil cases in the Supreme and County Courts. Legal aid was not available for proceedings in the courts of petty sessions.
Following representations from the Council of the Law Institute and the Victorian Bar Council, the Legal Aid Committee was established in 1963 under the provisions of the Legal Aid Act 1961 (No.6805). The Legal Aid Committee administered the Legal Aid Fund, and under the scheme established by the Act, Solicitors in practice provided legal aid representation to people who required assistance but who failed the means test and for people involved in proceedings in the courts of petty sessions. Solicitors were reimbursed for part of their legal costs from the Legal Aid Fund and the Government met the administrative costs of the scheme.
The Legal Aid Committee was empowered to provide legal aid in any case, but in practice only provided legal aid in cases where the Public Solicitor did not normally provide legal aid. (The Legal Aid Committee could be more flexible in determining which cases to accept, what charges should apply, and was not compelled to apply a means test as was the Public Solicitor). The Committee could therefore provide aid in any criminal, divorce and matrimonial, or civil proceeding in either the Supreme Court, the County Court or a Court of Petty Sessions.
The Public Solicitor continued to provide assistance for both civil and criminal proceedings, but the Legal Aid Committee gradually became responsible for a higher proportion of civil cases. In 1970, under the provisions of the Legal Aid Act 1969 (No.7919), the Legal Aid Committee became responsible for divorce and matrimonial and civil cases, cases that were previously provided for by the Public Solicitor.
With the establishment by the Commonwealth Government of the Australian Legal Aid Office in 1974, legal aid for cases that involved people on social security benefits or in Commonwealth law matters, was provided for by the Australian Legal Aid Office. This included divorce proceedings. Legal aid matters in which the Australian Legal Aid Office could grant aid were generally not handled by the Committee, although the Committee was empowered to handle them if it chose to.
The Office of the Public Solicitor continued to provide legal assistance for indictable criminal proceedings until 1981. The Legal Aid Committee continued to provide legal assistance for criminal, divorce and matrimonial and civil cases until 1981.
In 1981, under the provisions of the Legal Aid Commission Act 1978 (No.9245) the Legal Aid Commission (VA 877) was established. Its establishment represented a significant redefinition and extension of the concept of legal aid to include the provision of education, advice and information about the law, legal services, duty lawyer services and legal advice. The Legal Aid Commission inherited responsibility for the provision of legal services from the Legal Aid Committee and the Office of the Public Solicitor and assumed responsibility for the provision of legal advice from the Australian Legal Aid Office.
The Legal Aid Commission was responsible for the provision of:
Legal assistance being the provision of legal services. The level of assistance was largely determined by the financial circumstances of the applicant. Some applicants received the services without charge; others were required to make a contribution towards the cost of the services provided. The services may have been provided by the staff of the Commission or by solicitors and barristers in practice.
Legal advice being the provision of free advice on legal matters including civil, criminal and welfare matters.
Duty lawyer services being the provision of legal services by the staff of the Commission who attended courts and appeared for persons who were without representation.
Education and information including community education; the funding of community legal centres and neighbourhood mediation centres; the training of legal staff; community library services and law reform activities.
The Commission was responsible to the Attorney General and received funding from the Commonwealth and Victorian Governments and from interest earned on the investment of solicitors trust funds, contributions made by persons receiving legal assistance and legal costs awarded by the courts to assisted persons.
Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) was a statutory corporation established by the Legal Aid Commission (Amendment) Act 1995 (No.48/1995). It replaced the Victorian Legal Aid Commission with effect from 14 December 1995.
VLAs duties were specified in the Act (s.7) and included:
ensuring that legal aid was provided in the most effective, efficient and economical manner, and in a manner which dispels fear and distrust;
establishing local offices and using its best endeavours to make legal aid available throughout the state;
deciding the matters or classes of matters for which legal assistance may be provided;
deciding priorities between people and matters for legal aid;
liaising with legal practitioners professional bodies to facilitate the use, in appropriate circumstances, of services provided by practitioners;
maximising the use of voluntary services by practitioners;
informing the public of VLAs services and the conditions which attach to the services; and
encouraging and permitting the voluntary participation of law students in providing legal aid, under professional supervision.
Victoria Legal Aid has seven divisions:
Family and Civil Law
Knowledge and Community Resources
Finance and Administration
The Act also required VLA to control and administer the Legal Aid Fund (s.6). The Fund (s.41) includes all moneys from State or Commonwealth government grants, from funds controlled by the Legal Practice Board, moneys awarded by the Appeal Costs Board, legal costs recovered, income from the investment of moneys in the fund and client contributions to grants of assistance.
The VLA provided services at its Melbourne office, at ten regional offices and at courts, jails and other institutions.