South Australia’s free after-hours legal service marks 25 years

Domestic violence victims receiving legal help from trial hospital partnership
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Greg Mead said the service he began 25 years ago providing independent legal advice was vital to ensuring people know their rights.
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For criminal barrister Greg Mead SC setting up a free after-hours legal service was about ensuring people had equal access to independent legal advice.Now he’s marking more than 25 years of taking late-night calls from distressed defendants.The service was established in South Australia to help people charged with serious criminal offences navigate their legal rights when faced with police interviews, custody and arrest.Mr Mead is now the chief counsel for the Legal Services Commission and is still a regular volunteer on the overnight roster.”I think it was just around the time that the police were being required to record interviews, there had been a change in the legislation and we thought when that came in that it was a good opportunity for us to step in and provide some advice to people when they found themselves in that situation,” Mr Mead said.”We thought that was a space that legal aid ought to be occupying, that we should be in there providing that advice to people when they got arrested.”He said while most lawyers already had a demanding workload, many were not strangers to sleepless nights.He knows all too well the pitfalls of an early morning wake-up call.”On a Friday night you’ve finished work for the week and at two o’clock in the morning you get the call from the police telling you someone’s been arrested for a serious charge and you’ve got to click back into lawyer mode and be ready to deal with a person who’s in trouble,” he said.’Whatever people have done, they have rights’Mr Mead said many clients have intellectual disabilities, some are unwell and most are daunted by their predicament.”You have to be ready to deal with that situation, that can be difficult at two in the morning” he said.”People in that situation usually are distressed to some degree… and it’s important that they have someone independent that they can speak to who can tell them what their rights are and give them some assistance in that difficult situation.”Whatever people have done, they have rights and it’s no use having rights if you don’t know that you have them and if you don’t know how to exercise them.”The service is run by volunteers from the Legal Services Commission, ranging from junior legal staff to the most senior legal counsel.”We have people on a roster who carry a pager, so for the last 25 years every night, 9,000 plus nights and on the weekends, we’ve had someone with a pager,” Mr Mead said.”From senior management down to first-year-out solicitor might be on duty and then if it is a young solicitor we’ll have one of the more experienced people’s phone numbers available for them to ring if they get into strife, so it’s done by staff from across the commission.”Mr Mead said it was a credit to the staff that they had been providing the service to the public for 25 years, every night, for free.He said it was vital the service continued.”It’s providing a useful service we’re getting probably 30 calls a month, so on average a call per night, and I’d just like to see that need continue to be met, and I think with the dedication of the commission staff that’s likely to continue to happen.”
By Candice Prosser

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April 03, 2018 07:48:37
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