Comments from the leagle eagles please.
Pia Akerman reports in today's The Australian on Bruce Wilson's engagement of PILCH to organise his legal representation in Melbourne.
An affidavit from Mr Wilson's current solicitor Avi Furstenberg, released by the court to The Australian, outlines the difficulties Mr Wilson has had obtaining legal representation.
Mr Furstenberg said Mr Wilson, who lives on the NSW north coast, had first tried to get a lawyer through NSW Legal Aid but was knocked back because his case was being heard in Victoria.
He then went to the Public Interest Law Clearing House, which tried to get a Victorian Legal Aid lawyer for him, but was told any application would be refused because the case fell outside its guidelines.
"Specifically, Mr Wilson has not been charged with any offence," Mr Furstenberg said.
PILCH describes itself as a not-for-profit organisation "committed to improving access to justice for those who are disadvantaged or marginalised, and to protecting human rights".
It receives about one-fifth of its income from government grants and the remainder from sources including philanthropic donations and contributions from the Victorian Bar and the Law Institute of Victoria.
"We connect the most vulnerable in our community with lawyers who can provide free legal help," it says in its most recently published annual report.
Yesterday a PILCH spokeswoman declined to comment on how Mr Wilson fit into its criteria for assistance.
Mr Wilson has been working as a cook at a club. PILCH says people who can afford a lawyer are not allowed to access their referral service. In July, PILCH referred Mr Wilson's case to Mr Furstenberg at Lewenberg & Lewenberg, which advertises over 30 years of experience acting for clients charged with fraud-related offences.
"We have been involved in large-scale cases involving tens of thousands of documents requiring careful analysis," the firm says on its website. "Our experience means that we understand the offence, can advise you of the defences available and utilise techniques to manage your case in order to achieve the most favourable outcome."
Mr Furstenberg has taken the case on a conditional basis, so his firm will recover fees only if Mr Wilson wins a costs order in his favour from the court. Barrister Daniel Aghion is acting for Mr Wilson under the same terms.
Anyone care to take a look at the fees agreement? The lawyers undertake to get paid only if Mr Wilson wins a costs order in his favour from the court? Is that an orthodox fee arrangement in Victoria? Who bears liability for any adverse costs order against Mr Wilson?
I'll try to get commentary from PILCH - I see Pia tried and got the rebuff from a PILCH spokesperson. So no comment in a controversial matter that seems on face value to have been taken on outside the PILCH usual funding criteria. These are important issues given that PILCH is the recipient of favourable taxation treatment and other government funding.
What are the eligibility criteria?
When assessing a request for pro bono assistance, PILCH applies a combination of the following eligibility criteria:
- Whether the applicant has exhausted all other avenues of legal assistance. For example, the Referral Service cannot assist where:
- an applicant can afford a lawyer;
- an applicant is eligible for a grant of assistance from Victoria Legal Aid; or
- more appropriate assistance is available from another service provider, for example, a Community Legal Centre or a no-win-no-fee firm.
- The complexity and nature of the legal matter, including whether the issue is a family, criminal or civil law matter;
- Access to justice considerations (for example, vulnerability, disadvantage, oppression or discrimination);
- Legal merit (the prospects of success), and the utility (cost-benefit) of the matter;
- Whether the applicant or the legal issue are in Victoria;
- The disposition (behaviour) of the applicant;
- The pro bono capacity of the lawyers who participate in the programs we administer; and
- Our own resources.
We also apply the following discretionary considerations:
- Whether the matter raises public interest criteria (for example, the proceedings will determine an important right affecting a significant sector of the community, or advance the rule of law); and
- The administration of justice.