What we do

We provide grants of legal assistance to people who cannot afford a lawyer, who meet our eligibility criteria and who are experiencing a legal problem that we can help with. A grant of legal assistance can enable a lawyer to:

  • give legal advice
  • help resolve matters in dispute
  • prepare legal documents
  • represent a client in court.

Grants are provided for certain criminal, family and civil law matters.

Our service

We determine whether an applicant is eligible for a grant of legal assistance based on:

  • their financial situation
  • the type of legal problem they have
  • how successful they are likely to be in their case.

Clients with a grant of legal assistance can be helped by a Victoria Legal Aid lawyer or a lawyer on one of our panels, including private practitioners and lawyers from community legal centres.

Facts and figures

We provided 34,681 grants of legal assistance (up by 4%) to 26,805 unique clients (up by 4%).

Unique clients are clients who accessed one or more grants of legal assistance during the year.

Performance against target

Performance against targets for providing grants of legal assistance is:

2014–15 target 2014–15 outcome % variance
33,000 34,681 5.1

The variance to target is partly due to the staff practice meeting increased demand in cases relating to infringements, sexual offences, summary crime, y outh crime, child protection and independent children's lawyers.

Performance against target for processing applications for legal assistance within 15 days is:

2014–15 target 2014–15 outcome % variance
95% 93% -1.9

Our variance reflects day-to-day workflow pressures. Our simplified grants process allows staff lawyers and private practitioners on our section 29A specialist panels to use their professional judgement to self-certify grants of legal assistance via our online application management system ATLAS and get a response within minutes. This means applications can be approved and processed quickly which ensures vulnerable clients can get a speedy resolution to their legal problem. 

Approval and processing of applications for summary crime matters 

In 2014–15, of all new summary crime applications approved, 81 per cent were automatically approved via ATLAS with the remaining 19 per cent approved by our staff. In 2014–15, of all new applications received for summary crime matters, 77 per cent were processed within two days, 86 per cent within seven days, and 93 per cent within 15 days. These figures include applications that were approved, refused, or required additional information. 

Grants of legal assistance over two years

Grants of legal assistance over two years graph (see table for figures)

Year Staff lawyers Private and community legal centre lawyers Total
2014–15 11,176 23,505 34,681
2013–14 9,760 23,703 33,463

Key achievements

Streamlining assessment of complex funding issues with the County Court

We commenced a pilot with the County Court, which involves one of our Assignments Unit lawyers appearing one day each week at mentions for matters where complex funding issues are raised. We anticipate this will streamline the process for assessing applications for legal assistance, and create an opportunity for us to clarify outstanding issues about applications for grants of legal assistance.

Introducing a more effective compliance framework

We piloted a new risk-based compliance framework this year. Compliance checks were targeted to firms, offices and practitioners who had previously demonstrated non-compliance, while we conducted fewer checks of firms that had demonstrated strong compliance.

Our selection of practitioners and files for compliance checking is based on identified risk indicators, which are set quarterly in response to grant volumes and costs, complexity of matters, historical compliance results, feedback from stakeholders, and guideline changes.

We also continued to closely monitor the quality of legal services provided in response to client feedback.

Challenges

Ensuring compliance with grants guidelines and funding requirements

Our ongoing challenge is ensuring that practitioners on our panels correctly apply our eligibility guidelines, meet the conditions of panel membership, and obtain and retain sufficient documentary proof in support of their decisions to recommend a grant of legal assistance. Practitioners also need to be able to demonstrate the work they have performed.

This year we provided support and assistance to practitioners by conducting targeted and tailored training sessions on compliance with individual firms and offices.

Outlook

We remain committed to ensuring that quality legal aid services are delivered to our clients. We will continue to ensure that practitioners comply with our new practice standards, and deliver quality services through our specialist panels. As always, we will ensure that our clients receive fair decisions and understand the outcome of their applications for legal assistance.

In the coming year we will also provide greater oversight of major criminal cases and monitor the Criminal Trial Preferred Barrister List. We will also review the means test, consulting widely about the circumstances in which we provide grants of legal assistance to eligible clients.

More information 

For more information about the number and allocation of grants of legal assistance see: