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Duty Lawyer Service

 

What is a duty lawyer?

Duty lawyers are employed by Legal Aid WA and their role is to attend Magistrates Courts and Children's Courts to advise and represent people who are facing criminal charges in those courts.

How can a duty lawyer help me?

A duty lawyer can advise you on a range of issues and can also represent you in court in certain circumstances. The amount of help that a duty lawyer can give you will depend on whether the offence can be completely dealt with in the Magistrates Court or whether it must go to the District or Supreme Court or before the President of the Children's Court to be dealt with.

How can a duty lawyer help me with an offence that will be dealt with in the Magistrates Court or Children's Court?

The duty lawyer is able to advise you about:

  • whether you should plead guilty or not guilty
  • the seriousness of the charge/s
  • any defence you may have
  • what penalties you could receive
  • what is likely to happen in court
  • any issues you may have in relation to bail.

The duty lawyer is able to represent you (appear for you) to:

  • apply for bail
  • apply for more time in which to get legal advice or to obtain more information
  • indicate that you will plead not guilty
  • speak on your behalf if you are pleading guilty.

How can a duty lawyer help me with an offence that will be sent to the District or Supreme Court or before the President of the Children's Court?

While your charge is still listed in the Magistrates Court or in the Children's Court before a magistrate, the duty lawyer can advise you about:

  • the seriousness of your charge/s
  • the court (District or Supreme) in which your charge will be dealt with
  • any issues you may have in relation to bail
  • what is likely to happen to you in court
  • court processes.

While your charge is still listed in the Magistrates Court or in the Children's Court before a magistrate, the duty lawyer is able to represent you (appear for you) to:

  • apply for bail
  • apply for more time for you to find a private lawyer or apply for legal aid.

For matters that will be sent to the District or Supreme Court or before the President of the Children's Court, the duty lawyer cannot represent you on a plea of guilty or not guilty unless you already have a lawyer representing you and that lawyer has asked the duty lawyer to look after you on that day. If you already have a lawyer representing you it is always better for that lawyer to appear for you instead of the duty lawyer as your own lawyer will know more about you and more about your case.

Well before you are due to appear in the District or Supreme Court or before the President of the Children's Court, it is very important that you get your own private lawyer or apply for legal aid. The duty lawyer can help you to fill out an application for legal aid.

Can I see a duty lawyer when I appear in the District or Supreme Court or before the President of the Children's Court?

No, there is no duty lawyer available in the District or Supreme Courts or before the President of the Children's Court. If you do not already have a lawyer representing you, you should get your own private lawyer or apply for legal aid immediately.

Do I need to see a duty lawyer before I plead guilty or not guilty in the Magistrates Court or Children's Court?

You should obtain advice from the duty lawyer or another lawyer before you decide to plead guilty or not guilty, so that you are better informed about:

  • the seriousness of the charge
  • the things the police need to prove
  • whether you have a defence
  • whether you need more information before you plead guilty or not guilty, and
  • the possible penalties that may be imposed if you plead guilty or are found guilty of the offence.

What will happen if I plead guilty in the Magistrates Court or Children's Court?

As soon as you plead guilty, the court can proceed to impose a penalty on you for the offence. The duty lawyer can represent you at the time you plead guilty and can also speak on your behalf before the court decides on the appropriate penalty to impose.

Sometimes, the court will not impose a penalty on you immediately and may instead ask you to come back to court on a later date so that more information, such as a pre-sentence report, can be obtained before it imposes a penalty on you. You can still ask the duty lawyer to advise and represent you on the date that you return, however, it may not be the same duty lawyer that represented you previously.

Can a duty lawyer represent me at my trial?

If you plead not guilty, the court will give you a date when you must return for your trial. The duty lawyer cannot represent you at your trial, however, they can confirm whether you have a defence to the charge and can explain the trial process to you.

Well before your trial date, you should consider organising a private lawyer to represent you at your trial or you should apply for legal aid. If you will be representing yourself you should get advice about your defence and the trial process as early as possible. For more information see Pleading not guillty in the Magistrates Court.

Are there any other occasions when a duty lawyer cannot help me?

The duty lawyer cannot represent you at hearings where evidence is to be presented and considered by the court, such as hearings to:

  • determine facts for sentencing, or 
  • set aside bail.

The duty lawyer cannot represent you for applications that may require evidence to be presented and considered by the court, such as applications for:

  • an extraordinary drivers licence
  • a restraining order
  • a prohibitive behaviour order
  • an impounding or confiscation order for your vehicle
  • a forfeiture of surety
  • an order to set aside your licence suspension for non-payment of a fine or infringement.

However, if time permits, the duty lawyer may be able to provide you with advice about representing yourself in relation to such applications. You can also get information from these web pages: Extraordinary driver's licence applications and Licence suspension order for non-payment of a fine or infringement.

 

Further, a duty lawyer cannot advise or represent you in relation to the following matters:

  • responding to an application for a violence restraining order
  • taxation prosecutions
  • shire prosecutions (other than prosecutions under the Dog Act 1976 (WA))
  • prosecutions brought by government agencies or regulatory or incorporated bodies (other than prosecutions under the Animal Welfare Act 2002 (WA)).

In relation to any matter where the duty lawyer cannot help you, you have the option of representing yourself or seeking help from a private lawyer.

Is there a duty lawyer at every Magistrates Court and Children's Court?

While there is a duty lawyer available at most Magistrates and Children's Courts, they are not available at every court and may not be present every day. To check whether one will be present on the date and at the court you will be attending, contact the court registry.

Contact details for Magistrates and Children's Courts may be found under Court locations on the Department of the Attorney General's website.

When can I see a duty lawyer?

You can see a duty lawyer on the morning of your court appearance. You should attend the court and ask to see the duty lawyer well before the time noted for your appearance in court.

The duty lawyer is usually in attendance from 9am and sees people on a 'first come, first served' basis. You should try to get to court by 8:30am. If you arrive after 10am, you may be too late to see the duty lawyer. If you are appearing in court in the afternoon, a duty lawyer will not usually be available.

Can I see a duty lawyer if I am in custody?

If you are in custody and you are appearing in the Magistrates Court in person, you can see the duty lawyer at court on the morning of your appearance. If you are appearing over video link from prison, you can speak to the duty lawyer by telephone on the morning of your court appearance. You should let the prison staff or court custody staff know that you want to speak to the duty lawyer and they will arrange this for you.

If you are appearing in the Children's Court either as an adult or a juvenile, you should ensure that you see the duty lawyer before you are taken into court. The custody staff will arrange this for you.

You should speak to the duty lawyer if you do not already have a lawyer representing you.

If you are a sentenced prisoner or you are in a remand or detention centre and need legal advice before your court date, you should put your name down to see Legal Aid WA or ask the prison to arrange for you to see Legal Aid WA. You should do this well before your court date. Alternatively you can contact the nearest Legal Aid WA office yourself to request that someone speak to you before your court date.

Click here for more information about Metropolitan and regional offices of Legal Aid WA.

 How much does it cost to see the duty lawyer?

You will be charged $20 to see the duty lawyer in the Magistrates Court. The fee is lonly $5 if you are in receipt of social security benefits and may be waived completely in cases of financial hardship. There is no charge if you are in custody.

There is no charge if you see the duty lawyer in the Children's Court.

What should I take to court with me?

You should take all papers given to you by the police or other prosecuting agency and all papers given to you by the court, as well as anything else that you think might be useful for the duty lawyer to see when advising and representing you.

This will include:

  • the prosecution notice
  • the statement of material facts
  • any bail papers
  • any medical reports
  • any written character references you may have obtained.

If you are making an application for a spent conviction order and you have obtained the supporting character references and any other information, you should make sure you take these to court with you.

For more information about spent conviction orders, see Criminal records - general information.

For more information about character references, see References for court.

What if I need an interpreter when I see the duty lawyer?

If you know that you will need an interpreter when you attend court, you should contact the court well before your court appearance to ask them to arrange an interpreter.  This interpreter will then be available on the morning of your court appearance and can assist you during your interview with the duty lawyer and when you appear in court. 

To arrange an interpreter for the Magistrates Court you simply need to call the court in which you are appearing and advise them that you need an interpreter. They will need to know your court date and the specific language you speak.

To arrange an interpreter for the Children's Court, you need to complete an Interpreter Request Form. This form is available at the Children's Court or you may download it from the Children's Court website under Children's Court Interpreter Services. It must be provided to the court well before your court appearance so that an interpreter can be booked. If you are a family member and you need an interpreter, you may still use this service.

Contact details for Magistrates and Children's Courts in WA may be found under Court locations on the Department of the Attorney General's website.

You should be aware that an interpreter may not be available for long and you should therefore make sure you attend court early to see the duty lawyer and the interpreter together.

What if there is no duty lawyer available?

If you want help from the duty lawyer but one is not available on the day you are at court, you can ask the court to adjourn (put off) your charge to a date when a duty lawyer will be available.

Is ongoing legal representation available?

At any time and for any offence, you can choose to be represented by a lawyer on an ongoing basis, rather than the one-off representation provided by the duty lawyer. If you want ongoing representation you will either need to pay a lawyer privately, or you can apply for legal aid and if successful, a lawyer will be paid by Legal Aid WA to help you. Legal aid is not available in all cases.

How can I apply for legal aid?

Application forms for legal aid are available online, from all Legal Aid WA offices and from the duty lawyer at court.

For information about the process, see Applying for legal aid.

 

Last reviewed: 14/08/2013

Last Modified: 16/08/2013

Disclaimer

The material displayed on this page is intended for information only. If you have a legal problem, you should see a lawyer. Legal Aid Western Australia believes that the information provided is accurate, however does not accept responsibility for any errors or omissions.