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Tuesday, 21 May 1985
Page: 2211

Senator ROBERT RAY —I direct my question to the Minister representing the Attorney-General. The Minister will recall my question regarding the enforced granting of legal aid to Mr Brian Maher, a prominent business identity. Can the Minister tell the Senate what the current position is with regard to this matter?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am advised by the Attorney-General that, following proceedings by Mr Maher in the Federal Court of Australia which resulted in the Attorney-General being required, for technical reasons, to reconsider his initial refusal to grant Mr Maher aid, the Attorney proposed arrangements for the defence of Mr Maher at his trial. The arrangements were that the Commonwealth would meet the cost of Mr Maher's defence as follows: For counsel, $5,000 for initial preparation and a fee of $400 per sitting day; for the solicitor, $2,500 for preparation and $250 per sitting day, plus essential disbursements. These terms were established following consultation, I think it should be said, with the Queensland Justice Department and reference in particular to the Public Defender's Office in that State. The Attorney was satisfied on the basis of that consultation that the rates proposed were appropriate in Queensland for a lengthy and complex criminal trial of the kind that this will be.

Mr Maher's solicitors, however, have indicated that they are not willing to act for him on the terms authorised. Mr Maher informed the Supreme Court of Queensland on 16 May that he was endeavouring to engage another solicitor on the arranged terms, but he advised the court on 20 May that those endeavours were unsuccessful. His present solicitors have said to the Commonwealth Attorney that, despite wide inquiries within the profession, they have been unable to find any other practitioner who would be prepared to act on those terms-which says something for the quality and professionalism--

Senator Chaney —Everyone is entitled to be represented.

Senator GARETH EVANS —It says a great deal, I think, listening to Senator Chaney's interjection, for the quality and professionalism of the legal profession in Queensland. That is one reason, no doubt, why I was booed when I raised the question of costs at a legal convention there in 1983.

Senator Chaney —We can give you other reasons.

Senator GARETH EVANS —Triumphant vindication. Mr Maher's solicitors have now informed the Commonwealth that he has been granted legal aid by the Queensland Legal Aid Commission to institute further proceedings in the Federal Court under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act. These proceedings were commenced yesterday and a hearing has been set down for 24 May, with the Commonwealth being required to file any further material by 9 a.m. on 23 May. The trial has in fact started, with the Crown case going ahead tomorrow. However, I understand that a full transcript of the case has been ordered by the trial judge for subsequent use by Mr Maher's counsel in the event that he is ultimately granted legal aid by somebody and finds a lawyer willing to do the job for him.