A Bendigo lawyer has slammed cuts in Legal Aid services as a failure of the justice system.
Megan Aumair aired her concerns during the hearing of one of her clients who was ineligible for Legal Aid.
Jonathon Homewood yesterday received four months’ jail on charges of careless and disqualified driving.
Under changes to Legal Aid funding eligibility, introduced in October last year, people charged with a traffic related matter would only qualify for aid if they had a psychiatric or intellectual disability or an acquired brain injury and were likely to receive a jail sentence.
“Unless those people can afford the services of a private solicitor, they will be forced to represent themselves or seek the services of the duty lawyer when the matter proceeds to court,” Ms Aumair said.
Ms Aumair said she had represented Homewood before and knew he could not pay her.
Magistrate William Gibb commended Ms Aumair for acting pro bono.
“Practitioners can’t be expected to do that all the time, they would fall over,” he said.
Legal Aid’s program manager for summary crime Vicenzo Caltabiano said the organisation had to balance the demand for its services with the resources it had available and where the need was greatest.
“The position is often in traffic matters that magistrates have little discretion and there’s fairly established patterns of outcomes,” he said.
But Ms Aumair said this put more pressure on duty lawyers who were already stretched.
She said unless an accused person was properly advised and represented, they would not be in a position to present their case in the best possible way