Legal aid conferencing procedures
9.79Conferences are held after the receipt of a legal aid application and once means eligibility has been determined, but before the commencement of proceedings. Where resolution is not reached, a report on the legal merits is provided by the chairman of the conference to the Legal Aid Office to assist in the determination of future funding. The 1994 guidelines provided that aid might be suspended.
9.80A conference can be heard at any time during the dispute. Until the conference is held, legal aid is temporarily suspended. The parties are invited to attend a conference before any other grant of legal aid is made and before proceedings are issued. A conference can also take place a few weeks before trial. Chairmen have “been trained in mediation techniques”. They are solicitors, barristers or social scientists who have practised professionally for two years at least. The conference may be co-chaired by two chairmen from different professional backgrounds. “The combination of mediation techniques and professional expertise proves most helpful for clients who have difficulty in accepting the advice given to them by their solicitor”.1014
Child abuse or domestic violence
9.81In cases involving domestic violence, telephone conferencing is offered, or the parties are kept in separate rooms. In such cases, or cases involving child abuse or psychiatric illness, a member of the Department of Family Services and the Separate Representative for the child shall attend. The 1994 guidelines indicated that normally cases are excluded from conferencing if there are current proceedings dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse, or a domestic violence non-contact order is in existence, or where a power imbalance between the parties is apparent.
Involvement with solicitors
9.82Clients generally attend conferences with their solicitors and this is encouraged as it ensures that “clients have support and appropriate advice when they make decisions”.1015 Involving solicitors also educates them on the process so that they can properly prepare their clients and promote the process to their clients. Rogers noted that it is the experience of all Legal Aid Commissions that it is often difficult to convince both parties to voluntarily enter the process. She stressed that preparation for the conferences and positive attitude by intake officers and solicitors were critical for the success of the programme.
Early Intervention Conferencing
9.83Early Intervention Conferencing (EIC) was designed to assess the impact of requiring clients in custody and access disputes to attend a conference before being given legal aid. The application for legal aid must have been for the commencement of a custody and access application and the conference took place at
1014 Rogers, Legal Aid Office (Queensland) Conferencing Program, 1993.