Magistrate slams legal aid policy on ex-inmates

A TASMANIAN magistrate has criticised the Legal Aid Commission of Tasmania for guidelines that preclude former prisoners from receiving legal aid on driving charges, even if there's a chance that person may go to prison.

Magistrate Michael Daly asked for clarification on the commission's policy in the Hobart Magistrates Court yesterday.

"So people who are facing the most serious sentence given to the law won't get any help from Legal Aid?" Mr Daley asked.

Commission director Norman Reaburn said that legal aid was denied to former prisoners facing minor driving matters like driving while disqualified, exceeding 0.05 and unlicensed driving.

Mr Reaburn said that exclusion applied even if the offence put a person in breach of a suspended sentence, and for the subsequent breach application.

He said the policy was in place, "because we don't have enough money to do everything".

Minor drug offences are also not covered by legal aid.

"The Legal Aid Commission has to draw some kind of circle around that, and this is the way that we do it," Mr Reaburn said.

"We regard doing something for a person who hasn't been to prison as a bit more important than doing something for somebody who has been to jail."

Australian Lawyers Alliance president Greg Barns said the policy abandoned those most in need of aid. "People are entitled to expect that they will be represented legally in any matter where they run the risk of imprisonment," he said.

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