Legal Aid ACT is the name under which the Legal Aid Commission (ACT) carries out its functions.
The Legal Aid Commission (ACT) is an independent statutory authority established under the Legal Aid Act 1977 (the Act) and is accountable to the ACT Attorney-General for the exercise of its statutory functions. Our role is to provide legal assistance in the Australian Capital Territory in accordance with the Act. Legal assistance includes legal advice, duty lawyer services, minor legal assistance and grants of financial assistance for more substantial legal representation.
Legal aid services are free of charge, except for grants of financial assistance and FDR conferences, which are means-tested and may be subject to payment of a contribution. For more information, see What We Do.
Services provided by the Commission include:
The Commission also has a responsibility under the Act to make recommendations to the Attorney-General concerning reform of the law the desirability of which has come to its attention in the course of performing its functions.
The Commission is governed by a board of seven commissioners, six of whom are part-time and appointed by the Attorney-General to represent the interests of the community, the ACT Government and the legal profession. The seventh commissioner is the Chief Executive Officer who is appointed by the Commission. The Commission meets monthly (except in January) and additional meetings are held when required.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO), assisted by the Deputy Chief Executive Officer (DCEO), manages Legal Aid ACT. Both the CEO and DCEO are statutory office holders appointed by the Commission.
Legal Aid ACT has three functional divisions, each headed by a senior manager:
The Legal Practice operates in a similar way to a private law firm and is organised into three specialised areas - Criminal Practice, Family Practice and Civil Practice. Under the Act the CEO and DCEO are deemed to be a firm of solicitors practising in partnership. The Legal Practice’s lawyers provide advice and representation in criminal, family and civil law matters. The day-to-day work of the practice is managed by the DCEO.
Client Services is principally responsible for granting legal assistance and managing the assignment of legally assisted cases to the Legal Practice and to private lawyers. Client Services also manages the Family Dispute Resolution program and contractual arrangements under which private lawyers provide legal aid services on the Commission’s behalf. Because Client Services holds confidential information relating to people’s legal cases, there is a strictly enforced information barrier between Client Services and the Legal Practice. In this respect, the relationship between the two divisions is the same as the relationship between Client Services and a private law firm.
Corporate Services provides financial, operational, and ICT services to the other divisions of Legal Aid ACT, and arranges payments to private lawyers for handling legal aid work.
Legal Aid ACT operates with a high degree of autonomy. This is necessary because of our role in protecting the legal rights and interests of individuals, many of whom are parties to actions by, or against, the executive branch of government. Our lawyers are required by the Act to observe the same rules and standards of professional conduct as private lawyers, and are subject to the same professional duties. This means that their professional duties are owed to the law, the court and clients, rather than to executive government.