In the Australian justice system, defendants are entitled to a public defence lawyer to help them achieve the best results in a court of law. For people who are charged with a crime, they have a choice of whether to use the legal aid system, or seek out a private defence lawyer.
Here are some situations where it can be more useful to get a private defence lawyer.
You have the financial means
While Legal Aid is often presented as free, the fees are generally offered on a sliding scale where very low income defendants receive a free service and progressively higher fees are charged depending on their income. This means that if you have significant financial means you will effectively be paying the same rate for a Legal Aid lawyer vs. a privately hired defence lawyer. Note that legal aid will also look at other people in your immediate family when considering your means, including your spouse and your parents if you are a juvenile defendant.
You need more time with your lawyer
Due to the high demand for Legal Aid lawyers, they are often extremely busy. This means you will get limited time with your lawyer, which can be fine if your case is relatively simple. However, if your case is relatively complex and you need to spend some time with your lawyer to apprise them of all the relevant details, then a privately hired lawyer might offer you more time and attention.
Your case has extra challenges
Legal Aid is more likely to take on cases with a reasonable chance of winning, known as the merit test. This means that if your case does not have a reasonable chance of winning you may not get legal aid. You may wish to mount a challenge anyway and a criminal lawyer to fight the case.
Your case is not in a priority area
As Legal Aid services have a limited amount of resources, they focus on certain types of crimes, including serious crimes against people, civil matters and family law dispute. Property crimes (including arson, vandalism and burglary) generally have a lower priority level.
Having a choice of criminal lawyers can let you find an experienced defence lawyer that is both a good personal and legal fit for your case. In many cases private lawyers can be a better fit for your defence and can help maximise the chances of a successful result from your defence.
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