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Security-approved lawyers panel for VLA

Briefs

Cite as: (2004) 78(10) LIJ, p. 16

Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) wants expressions of interest from lawyers prepared to seek a security clearance to perform legal aid work on cases that relate to national security.

The federal government last year introduced a requirement for all Australian legal aid commissions that in certain cases lawyers acting for clients on a grant of legal aid must have a security clearance.

The clearance was necessary for any matter under federal law that related to or touched on Australia’s national security.

The directive has led VLA to move to assemble a suitably vetted group of practitioners who will be available when clients with legal problems relating to national security seek legal aid.

VLA managing director Tony Parsons said arrests this year of a number of people in New South Wales on charges involving national security issues prompted VLA to assemble a group of Victorian lawyers with the appropriate security rating to represent defendants in such cases.

“It would be really unfortunate if an indigent Victorian was arrested and was not able to call on a lawyer because none had been given a security clearance,” Mr Parsons said.

The requirement of a security clearance only applies if a practitioner acts for a client who is the recipient of a grant of legal aid. Privately retained lawyers do not require a clearance.

Mr Parsons said the commonwealth directive to legal aid commissions formed part of the funding agreement between each commission and the Commonwealth.

In opposing the introduction of this guideline, VLA cautioned the federal government that the guideline would stigmatise lawyers and legally-aided clients in national security related trials.

It has also argued that the practical process of security vetting was intrusive and unnecessary.

Mr Parsons said that, despite these entreaties, the vetting requirement was now a fixture of the legal landscape, at least for practitioners acting for legal aid clients.

Those wishing to undergo the security clearance procedure or wanting further information can contact Mr Parsons by mail at 350 Queen Street, Melbourne or by email at tonyp@vla.vic.gov.au.

The federal government will meet the cost of obtaining the clearance.

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