Legal Aid for Criminal Matters in NSW

Legal Aid NSW (formerly the Legal Aid Commission of NSW) was established in 1979. Legal Aid NSW is a government funded organisation which employs a large number of lawyers to assist clients across a wide range of legal matters in NSW. In addition, Legal Aid NSW assists in funding community legal centres and other advocacy services to help people and improve access to justice to clients who are otherwise unable to afford legal representation. Legal Aid NSW also work in partnership with private lawyers and law firms who receive government funding, by way of a grant of legal aid to represent legally aided clients.

Is Legal Aid available for all criminal law matters?

If you need legal representation and cannot afford to pay for a lawyer, you may be eligible to get help from a lawyer employed by Legal Aid NSW, or if appropriate, have a private lawyer of your choice represent you by way of a grant of legal aid assigned to your lawyer by Legal Aid NSW.

Legal Aid is a government funded organisation. It is important to note that Legal Aid assistance is not available to each and every criminal law matter and there are various financial (means test) and other criteria which need to be met before an application for legal aid can be approved by Legal Aid NSW. It is therefore necessary to make an application for legal aid as soon as possible after you have been charged with a criminal offence if you believe that you are eligible to receive a grant of legal aid.

To be eligible for legal aid, an applicant must satisfy the means test. The means test establishes the applicant’s ability (or any financially associated person such as a parent or spouse) to be able to afford paying the costs of their own legal representation. 

In proceedings in the Local Court, legal aid is generally not available for clients charged with an offence which does not carry a term of imprisonment as an available penalty. In the case of a grant of legal aid for a defended hearing in the Local Court, legal aid is generally not available unless if convicted, there is a real possibility of a term of imprisonment being imposed upon the accused or that there are exceptional circumstances requiring Legal Aid NSW to consider granting an application for Legal Aid. Legal Aid is generally not available for driving and traffic offences unless there are exceptional circumstances or that if convicted, there is a real possibility of a term of imprisonment being imposed for the offence(s).

Legal Aid is more widely available to serious matters (indictable matters) which will ultimately be heard in the NSW District Court or NSW Supreme Court given that the risk of a prison sentence is far more prevalent. That said, the means test, and other eligibility criteria still need to be satisfied before a grant of legal aid can be favourably determined.

Legal Aid is widely available to children given their particular vulnerability in the criminal justice system however, means tests and other eligibility criteria still apply in determining whether an applicant qualifies for a grant of legal aid.

What is the Legal Aid Means Test?

The means test establishes the applicant’s ability to be able to afford paying the costs of their own legal representation. Legal Aid will refuse an application for legal aid where an applicant does not satisfy the means test. Whether an applicant qualifies for a grant of legal aid isn’t always straight forward however a means test calculator can be a useful guide in determining whether you may be eligible for a grant of legal aid.

Can I choose my own lawyer?

When making an application for Legal Aid you can elect to be represented by a Legal Aid lawyer, a private lawyer of your choice or even indicate that you have no preference either way. Even if you chose your own lawyer, it is important to note that Legal Aid NSW do not have to assign your matter to your choice of lawyer if a Legal Aid lawyer employed by Legal Aid NSW is available to conduct your matter or if your chosen lawyer is not on the applicable Legal Aid panel. Our lawyers are on the Children’s, General Crime and Serious Crime Legal Aid panels so there will be little difficulty in Legal Aid assigning your grant of Legal Aid to this firm if appropriate to do so.

How long can it take for my application for Legal Aid to be determined?

Legal Aid NSW receive many Legal Aid applications each day. If you are unable to afford to engage a lawyer and you qualify for a grant of Legal Aid, it is important to make your application for Legal Aid as soon as possible. Processing times may vary with some applications determined within a matter of days, and others taking many weeks to be determined. Leaving your application too late can result in Legal Aid NSW not processing your application in time for your court date which may mean that you may need to represent yourself at court if you cannot afford to pay for a lawyer.

Can I appeal against a refusal of Legal Aid?

If you have applied for a grant of legal aid and have been refused, you can appeal against the decision to refuse a grant of legal aid by completing and lodging a Legal Aid Appeal Form. An appeal needs to be lodged within 28 days of the refusal of your application and can take around 8-10 weeks to be determined.

What is covered in my grant of legal aid?

Grants of legal aid are funded by the NSW Government. As a result, fees and items of work are capped. It is important to note that a legal aid grant is almost always very specific as to what work is covered by your lawyer pursuant to a grant of legal aid. Very often, a grant of legal aid will only cover a hearing or trial date(s) and limited amounts of preparation for court. Any additional work will often require applications for an extension of the grant of legal aid to grant more funding for such work to be completed or may not be covered by a grant of legal aid at all. If you have been granted legal aid, it is important that you familiarise yourself with what is included in your grant of legal aid and to discuss what work is included in the grant of legal aid with your lawyer.

Why Choose Australian Lawyers and Advocates?

If you are facing a criminal law matter, and are eligible for, or have an existing grant of Legal Aid, our team of expert defence criminal and traffic lawyers in Sydney can help you. We will carefully consider your case and provide expert advice on your options. We can also assist with preparing and lodging applications for Legal Aid on your behalf.

Our team of expert criminal and traffic defence lawyers in Sydney have a proven track record of securing successful outcomes for our clients in criminal law matters. Our results speak for themselves.

If you require expert representation in a criminal or traffic law matter, don’t delay. Contact our expert criminal defence lawyers in Sydney today.

The content contained within this guide is expressed as a general guide as to this area of law and is not intended to contain legal advice specific to an individual’s case. If you, or someone you know has been charged with a criminal offence and requires legal advice, do not hesitate to contact Australian Lawyers and Advocates to discuss any criminal law or traffic law matters further.

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