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Legal Aid appeals funding under review

Briefs

Cite as: December 2013 87 (12) LIJ, p.13

The failed controversial appeal of high-profile killer Adrian Ernest Bayley has prompted a review of Victoria Legal Aid’s (VLA) appeals funding process.

Bayley received public funds to appeal his life sentence with a 35-year minimum term for the rape and murder of Jill Meagher, who was killed in Brunswick in September 2012.

The case galvanized the city’s sympathies, and Bayley’s appeal, which was dismissed in less than 10 minutes in October, raised the ire of the community.

Attorney-General Robert Clark was moved to raise the issue of appeals funding with the chair of VLA Andrew Guy.

“The chair agreed that these were matters that needed to be examined and VLA has now commenced doing so,” a spokesman for Mr Clark said.

“The Government is looking forward to the outcome of that examination.”

VLA announced it would review the Court of Appeal’s reasons for refusing leave in all sentence appeal’s during 2013.

VLA acting managing director Meagan Keogh said the Court of Appeals reasons in the Bayley case would be included in the review.

She welcomed the Court’s comments that it was not unusual for the appeal decision to be made so quickly.

“The Court was in a position to dispose of the application expeditiously because of the materials filed and the prior preparation and discussion of the Court members during the days beforehand,” the Court’s reasons stated.

Ms Keogh said changes to appeals funding guidelines introduced in 2011 had resulted in fewer appeals against sentences and quicker determination of appeals, the funding of which was based on impartial procedures.

“We understand seeing a convicted offender appeal against their sentence can be distressing for victims of crime and the community but we must adhere to objective processes and cannot be influenced by how we might feel about the individuals involved,” she said.

LIV president Reynah Tang said the LIV supported the review.

“The appeals process is a core function of the justice system and it is essential that funding continues to be made available for this important process to ensure the justice system remains fair and equitable,” Mr Tang said.

“However, for our courts to operate effectively, there needs to be increased funding at both state and federal level so that all Victorians are assured of a functioning and robust justice system that protects their rights to accessible and affordable representation.”

The appeals funding review comes at a time when VLA has tightened guidelines and cut services in a bid to reduce its deficit that ballooned to $9.3 million in October.

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