AUSTRALIA has launched an investigation into whether the federal government is encouraging the lawyers of its litigants to fight cases, and whether those lawyers are being asked to pay large sums of money for legal services.
Key points:Lawyers in courtrooms across Australia are not required to pay the government for their servicesAUSTRALIAN law firm Law Offices of Arundel & Macdonald has reported $500,000 of costs being incurred for litigation assistanceIt was reported in the latest edition of its law journal that lawyers in the Federal Court in Sydney are not allowed to pay their clients for legal advice.
“It’s not a new thing that lawyers are getting paid for legal work,” said Ms O’Reilly, a lawyer at law firm Aruldel & Macdonald, who reported the figure in the June issue.
“I think we’ve seen it before in the courts of Australia.”
Ms O’ Reilly said the amount was the first she had heard of the issue, but that she was concerned that the practice was being encouraged.
“The question is how does the government justify that to the lawyers that they’re paying for that work,” she said.
“How does it justify that it’s a requirement to provide that legal service to the government, if the lawyers are not actually paying for the legal services that are required?”
Ms O, who is also a lawyer for the National Lawyers’ Guild, said it was difficult to see how the payment of a fee for legal help would make a difference.
“We’ve seen cases where it’s been in the thousands of dollars and thousands of hours of work for them, but they haven’t had to pay a penny for it,” she added.
“In the past, the money that was paid for the work was from the court.”
Ms Macdonald was unable to say how many lawyers it had hired in the past year, but she said the figures were “fairly low”.
“It doesn’t make a huge difference, it doesn’t seem like it,” Ms Macdonald said.’
Inappropriate’ practicesIn response to questions about the practice of paying for legal assistance in court, Ms MacDonnell said it made sense for the government to require lawyers to be able to provide advice to the public.
“This is a legal profession that’s supposed to be a service, not a commodity,” she told ABC News.
“If they’re not providing it, then there’s something wrong with the system.”
The practice of asking lawyers to take on litigation work could be seen as inappropriate by lawyers who would normally be providing advice to their clients.
“They’re in a position where they are not paid to provide legal services, they’re working for free to provide information to the courts, so if they are asked to do that then there are a number of issues that arise,” Ms O’s Reilly said.
The Attorney-General’s Department said it had not received any complaints about the use of lawyers for litigation.