Duty Lawyers At Court

Lawyers are 'on duty' at the ACT Magistrates Court and Children's Court, the Federal Circuit Court, and at mental health sittings of the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT). The duty lawyer service is free and can be accessed by everyone.

Duty Lawyers help people who have a legal issue but do not have their own lawyer. They provide assistance on a ‘one off’ basis but do not provide ongoing help. The level of assistance that can be provided by a Duty Lawyer is limited to brief advice or assistance. If you have a complex legal issue or need ongoing assistance throughout your legal matter, you need to apply for a grant of legal assistance.

It is important when you go to court to speak with a Duty Lawyer that you take with you all the documents you have received in relation to your matter.

Details of duty lawyer services in the ACT are:

Court or Tribunal Types of Legal Matters Times Available
ACT Magistrates Court Criminal law matters 9am - midday on sitting days
ACT Magistrates Court Family Violence Orders and Personal Protection Orders

9am - 1pm Monday to Friday. Afternoons by appointment only - call 1300 654 314.

ACT Children's Court Criminal law matters 9am - midday on sitting days
Family Court Family Law matters 10am - 3pm Monday to Friday
ACAT Assistance for clients detained under the Mental Health (Treatment and Care) Act 2015. Contact us for more information

Can a duty lawyer help me?

Duty lawyers generally only help people who have a court or tribunal hearing on the day and who have not had the chance to see a lawyer beforehand. If possible, it is best to get legal advice before you go to court. If you need legal advice, contact the Legal Aid Helpline

The duty lawyer may have many people to see on a single day and might not be able to help everyone. We give priority to:

  • serious cases, including people in custody or people at risk of going in to custody
  • matters involving children
  • people who cannot afford legal help
  • people who could not get legal advice before the hearing date

Do I have to pay?

No. Seeing a duty lawyer is free.

What can a duty lawyer do?

A duty lawyer may be able to:

  • give you advice about your matter
  • explain what might happen at your hearing
  • help you to get an adjournment (to put off your hearing to a later date, so you have time to get legal advice)
  • talk to the court/tribunal or other parties on your behalf
  • speak for you in court to help you to get bail for criminal matters
  • speak for you in court if you intend to plead guilty for criminal matters.

Duty lawyers cannot 'run your case' for you. For example, they cannot represent you in court if you intend to plead 'not guilty' in a criminal matter. If you need help with your matter get legal advice before your hearing date.

Do I have to book to see a duty lawyer?

No, you cannot book to see a duty lawyer. It is best to turn up at the court or tribunal between 9.00 am and 9.30 am and ask court staff to tell you where the duty lawyer is. There is a duty lawyer room at the Magistrates Court. The duty lawyer will likely have many people to see so you may have to wait.

If your matter is to start in court before you have spoken to the duty lawyer, ask the Magistrate, Judge or Tribunal Member if they can move your matter to a later time, so that you can get advice from the duty lawyer.

Can I get an interpreter or other communication assistance?

Yes. Legal words are sometimes hard to understand. If English is not your first language, you may want to have an interpreter to help you at court. Auslan interpreters may be available. In many cases the police, prosecution or court will pay for the interpreter. Let us know if you need an interpreter before the day of your hearing and we will help to arrange this.

How can I prepare for court?

Before coming to court you should:

  • collect and bring the paperwork you have about your matter (eg, charge and summons, police brief, previous court orders, letters or fines, character references etc.)
  • turn up to the court/tribunal an hour before your hearing - you may need to wait to see the duty lawyer
  • make sure you have the whole day free - even if your matter is listed at 10.00 am you may have to wait a few hours before the court hears your matter
  • let the court know if you need an interpreter or other assistance
  • bring a friend or family member for support if you want to.

What if I need more help?

The duty lawyer can only give you limited help on the day. If your matter is more complicated, the duty lawyer may be able to help you get an adjournment (put off your hearing to a later date) so that you have a chance to get legal advice.

If you need more legal help, you may be able to apply for a grant of legal assistance for a lawyer to run your case. The duty lawyer may talk to you about this. We may also be able to refer you to other services for help.