A day in the life of a Legal Officer - Adult Legal Team
I get a phone call from the duty lawyer at Legal Aid Queensland (LAQ) regarding my client, Dan.* Dan’s solicitor withdrew from his criminal law matter yesterday, and it is listed for mention today.
I sent an urgent request to LAQ yesterday to ask them to request an adjournment, and also to refer the matter to another solicitor. The duty lawyer is calling to let me know that the Magistrate is requesting my urgent attendance.
I head straight to court to appear as a ‘friend of the court’ to explain the role of the Public Guardian as a decision maker for Dan in legal matters and to request the adjournment to enable Dan to access alternate legal representation.
Back at the office I take the chance to catch up on some paperwork, as I have five Legal Aid applications that have to be completed today to ensure my clients have legal representation this week.
Just as I finish my paperwork the phone rings again. This time it’s to let me know that one of my clients, Johnnie,* has been remanded in custody. Johnnie, who has a full scale IQ of 47, is in a relationship with another OPG client, Lucy, and together they have a child who is currently in foster care.
Due to their disabilities, both Johnnie and Lucy have difficulties expressing themselves. Both experience frustration with each other’s communication style, and this can often lead to verbal altercations. As there is a Domestic Violence Order (DVO) in place between them, these altercations can result in Johnnie breaching his DVO, which is what has led to his most recent arrest.
I head down to court to explain the situation, however bail is refused for Johnnie, who lives in a level three accredited residential services hostel and has seven hours of disability support a week. When I talk to Johnnie in the watch-house after the hearing, he has a black eye. Johnnie says that he has been assaulted in custody. Johnnie also discloses to me that he has been raped. I go back to my desk to make phone calls to Prison Mental Health and to the General Manager of the prison to raise my concerns about Johnnie’s immediate safety, and to help ensure that all appropriate action is taken.
I also arrange to speak with Johnnie’s Guardian in OPG’s general Guardianship division so we can formulate a strategy to advocate for better support and more appropriate accommodation for Johnnie. An increase in support and accessing more stable accommodation may help Johnnie to make a successful bail application and be released from custody as well as getting the support he needs to keep Lucy safe and have the best possible chance of a stable relationship with Lucy and their child.
Phone calls made, I take the opportunity to write an affidavit in support of a Supreme Court Bail Application for a client, and take it over the road to the offices of her new lawyer. Nancy* has been a classified patient of a mental health ward for over 12 months now, and has been charged with some vagrancy and public nuisance type offences. As Nancy’s previous lawyer had not taken timely action towards having these charges dismissed under the provisions of the Mental Health Act 2016, I had made the decision to provide instructions to a new lawyer for Nancy.
I made this decision a few days ago and then had an urgent case meeting with Nancy’s Delegate Guardian for non-legal matters and her treating team. As a result of this meeting, Nancy’s consultant agreed to write a letter of support for Nancy to obtain bail, on the basis that while she is unwell, she can be managed under a Treatment Authority. Her new lawyer now has all the relevant paperwork, and I am confident he will be able to secure bail for Nancy.
My final appointment of the day is attending a contact review meeting regarding my client Hannah. Hannah has an intellectual disability and receives 24/7 support. She has two children who were both removed from her care after birth and placed in kinship care. Hannah faces a number of challenges and currently also has domestic violence and criminal proceedings in process. An application has now been made for long term guardianship orders for Hannah’s children, meaning the children would remain out of Hannah’s care until they are 18 years old.
Hannah feels that with support, she should be given a further chance to parent her children. I made the decision to instruct a lawyer to represent Hannah at a Court Ordered Conference, where the lawyer argued on Hannah’s behalf that the children should be subject to less intrusive orders. Ultimately, short term orders were made for both children, giving Hannah two more years to show that she can look after her children and work towards their reunification to her care. At today’s contact review meeting I advocate on Hannah’s behalf that Hannah should be able to have contact in her home with her children, without the carer present. Hannah reports that the carer is often verbally abusive to her.
The Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women agree to this request, which is a great outcome for Hannah. For the first time in two years she will not be required to see her children in a public place like a park or at the local McDonald’s. Hannah is pleased that now she can have contact with her children in her own home.
*All names have been changed to protect identities.