South Australia defenceless

Issue 

Hundreds of people in South Australia could soon be left without defence lawyers, part of a nationwide crisis in the under-funding of essential legal services.

According to the August 8 Adelaide Advertiser, legal aid lawyers have been notified that they could lose their jobs because the Legal Aid Commission is running out of money. People accused of criminal offences could be left without legal representation, undermining a key legal guarantee to a fair trial.

Lawyers have blamed the state Labor government for its six-year "tough on crime" agenda, saying that there was no commensurate funding for extra legal work.

The latest example of the tough-on-crime approach was the August 8 announcement that South Australia is planning to abolish the 800-year-old legal principle preventing a person being retried for the same offence. This "double jeopardy" rule has been a long-term target by various police forces around Australia, to make it easier for the police to harass individuals who are acquitted by a jury.

Critics of the move to abolish the rule argue that it will also encourage the police to conduct sloppy investigations, knowing that they will have a second chance if they bungle the first investigation.

The abolition of double jeopardy is expected to become law, as the Liberal opposition supports Labor's initiative.