Legal Aid scaled back as hearings are delayed
Legal Aid Queensland has suspended face-to-face duty lawyer services and it will deeply disadvantage the most vulnerable in society, a leading criminal lawyer says.
LAQ emailed practitioners on Wednesday of the change in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak and it comes as Queensland Magistrate courts adjourn all non-urgent hearings and self-represented matters for three months from Monday.
Former Queensland Law Society president Bill Potts said he had grave concerns for those suffering from addictions, the mentally ill and those who are homeless who find themselves in the watchhouse.
"The duty solicitor scheme literally provides front end advice to people who are effectively the most vulnerable and these people now can't get timely independent legal advice," Mr Potts said.
"The magistrates are going to have to work as hard as they can to ensure a person's rights are not affected and they will do a good job, I have no doubt about that."
A document titled Brisbane Magistrates Court Guideline 2020, which contains two sections and details the new arrangements from next week, was distributed on Tuesday.
It was signed off by Chief Magistrate Judge Terry Gardiner and also covers Children's Court proceedings.
"All matters other then (sic) urgent matters will be adjourned on the papers, without appearances, for three months from the date of listing," the document sighted by AAP states.
The changes include leave for lawyers to appear by telephone or audio-visual, while victims in police applications for domestic violence orders and parties who are legally represented parties are excused from appearing.
The guidelines are to be adopted in magistrate courts across the state.
"Arrangements are being put in place to respond to COVID-19 to ensure the spread of the infection is limited as far as possible and to continue to provide court services to the Queensland community," Judge Gardiner wrote.
The correspondence contains a flowchart to govern where and when cases are to be heard in Brisbane's Magistrates Court.