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Help Before Court advocacy services

Information about best practice approach for delivering advocacy services to clients at their hearing

Pre-hearing communication

Communicating with your client before the hearing

Best practice tip: Call the client one business day before Court to confirm instructions and advice.

Topics to discuss with your client might include:

  • confirmation of instructions
  • update regarding the results of any communication with the prosecution unit
  • confirmation regarding the Webex link and hearing time
  • procedural advice
  • instructions on finalising in client’s absence if the client is unable to attend

Where the client has arranged support letters and/or other documentation, ask the client to email it to you immediately so that you can file it with the court.

Client disengagement

Best practice tip: Where a client disengages prior to the court date (either they become unresponsive or have sought representation from another lawyer) you are not required to make an appearance but should update the representation status on EFAS.

In this instance, panel practitioners are entitled to bill the full advice and advocacy fee.

Appearance and adjournments

Appearance via Webex

Best practice tip: Online appearance require the same formality and protocols as an in-court appearance. Advise your client of this.

VLA's Webex guide for online hearings can assist you and clients appearing via Webex:

  • the Webex Guide sets out instructions for using Webex – key functions, how to set and participate in an online hearing
  • 'Guidance note – Adopting a client first approach to legal assistance and proceedings during COVID-19'
  • a video overview of Webex's key functions
  • a Webex test site.

More information can be found on VLA's website.

Adjournments

Best practice tip: If you have requested an administrative adjournment but the court responds that an appearance is required, you will have to appear.

VLA and the Melbourne Magistrates' Court are currently trialling a facilitated administrative adjournments pilot, whereby adjournments are granted to a time that suits the lawyer. It is hoped this will improve service continuity for clients and be rolled out across the State.

Intervention order applications

Best practice tip: Where a client’s criminal charges are accompanied by an intervention order application, be prepared to finalise that application in the same appearance.

Where an intervention order is listed with criminal charges seek instructions to finalise the matter at the same time as the plea. For more information on how to appear on an IVO application see VLA intranet Family violence intervention orders resources (sharepoint.com)

Unless previously authorised by the Summary Crime Program Manager, Help Before Court service provision does not extend to contested intervention order matters. In this instance, refer the client to the appropriate VLA duty lawyer service or Pre-Court Engagement Service.

Service continuity

Best practice tip: When you determine the client eligible for advice and advocacy, wherever possible you should represent them in court rather than briefing another lawyer to appear.

A key benefit for clients of a Help Before Court service is to be able to provide service continuity. This means that the lawyer who initially provides advice should have carriage of the matter until finalised.

Service continuity means clients don’t have to retell their story, develop trust in their lawyer and their lawyer is best informed to advocate on their behalf. It also means you don't have to handover the matter to a colleague.

Service continuity also benefits the summary crime system. Prosecutors and the Court have a single person to communicate with, and duty lawyers are free to focus on finalising matters on the day.

Briefing another lawyer to appear

If you cannot appear in a Help Before Court matter, brief the lawyer on duty or a colleague from your office.

If you have a scheduling conflict and cannot appear:

  • if you are requesting an adjournment, file an EFAS administrative adjournment request to a suitable date.
  • if administrative adjournment is refused, or the matter will proceed by plea, draft a memo for the duty lawyer colleague with adequate information about the matter.
  • share the brief, the memo, any SCC email and other material with your colleague at least 24 hours prior to hearing.
  • the amount of detail and material to be provided will depend on the purpose of the appearance – if the appearance is to seek an adjournment, less material will be required than if it is for a plea.
  • inform the client that a colleague will appear.

Do not brief Counsel to appear for Help Before Court matters.

Panel practitioners must not brief VLA duty lawyers to appear in Help Before Court matters.

Post-appearance tasks

Call the client after the hearing to explain the outcome.

Some points you may wish to address with the client and file note on the court attendance DLR:

  • Undertakings: the length of the undertaking and the conditions, the process required to sign it, and whether your client will be required to attend court at the completion of the undertaking.
  • Fines: the amount of the fine and any additional consequences (ie loss of licence).
  • CCOs: the length of the order, the conditions, the process required to sign it, and the consequences of breaching the order.
  • A term of imprisonment: if imprisonment is ordered, you will have to explain to your client the duration of the prison sentence and how, when, and where to surrender.
  • Appeal options where appropriate
Best practice tip: Facilitate any post-hearing processes required to complete the matter, such as signing an order.

You should:

  • review the order to ensure it is accurate
  • email the order to your client and advise the client to, download, print, read, sign, scan and email the order back to the court and prosecution immediately.

When forwarding the order to the client, emphasise that it is the clients’ responsibility and obligation to send the signed order to the court. Share the relevant email addresses (court registry and prosecution) with the client in the email.

Emphasise that your service is now complete and that if they ever need more assistance, they can lodge another help request on the HB4C intake tool.

Online Hearings

Information on what Help Before Court (HB4C) services to provide people with online mentions hearings.

Referrals with 14 days or more before the hearing

If you receive a referral for HB4C services for someone with an online court hearing, assess if the person has reasons for attending their hearing online (like distance, disability or mental health). If so, the online appearance should be accommodated if possible.

Lawyers may apply discretion and direct the person to attend court in-person.

Referrals within 14 days of the hearing

If you receive a referral for HB4C services within 14 days of someone’s online court hearing, try to accommodate the referral by giving legal advice before the hearing date.

If the person is eligible for representation, assess if they have reasons for attending their hearing online (like distance, disability or mental health). If so, the online appearance should be accommodated if possible.

If you are unable to provide advice before the hearing due to capacity, contact the VLA office who referred the matter to you to make alternative arrangements for assistance.

Lawyers may apply discretion and direct the person to attend court in-person.

Referrals on the day of court

Lawyers have discretion to provide services based on the Summary Crime Duty Lawyer Guidelines(opens in a new window) and the following factors:

  • capacity
  • the help seeker’s priority and capability factors
  • prior adjournments, and/or
  • any other barriers that prevent the help seeker from attending court in-person.

The same direction applies if the request comes from the court.

Lawyers can recommend adjournment to people and the court if they do not have capacity to provide legal advice. Lawyers should tell people to ask for HB4C(opens in a new window) again as soon as possible after the adjournment to get help before their new court date.

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