A Chinese national charged over a record cocaine haul into Hobart was last month unable to communicate with his lawyer because Legal Aid refused to fund an interpreter.
Cheng Gang Wang is one of 10 sailors who have pleaded not guilty to attempting to import a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs.
He was arrested after the 186 kilogram $60 million shipment was discovered onboard a 50-metre vessel last month.
Last month, Legal Aid declined to grant aid to Mr Wang’s lawyer Evan Hughes, meaning Mr Hughes was unable to hire an interpreter to assist him.
Mr Hughes said his client was clearly eligable for aid because he cannot speak English and is unable to access his bank accounts.
“It would be troubling for people in foreign countries to hear this if they are considering coming to Tasmania,” he said.
“This person is in custody in a foreign country. I think the community would be surprised to know he has been treated this way.”
Legal Aid Commission of Tasmania acting director Chris Arnott said the organisation had now supplied a grant of aid to Mr Hughes.
“Each of the co-accused has sought advice from a private practice lawyer and the majority have received a limited grant of aid to take instructions and advise their clients,” Ms Arnott said.
“Those not currently in receipt of a grant of aid instructed lawyers from the north of the state, who have not yet attended their clients in person.
“As the matter has now taken longer than anticipated to progress further, they will now be given the same grant of aid as their co-accused so they can obtain legal advice.
“Legal Aid is provided to clients based on the LACT’s criteria, which includes assessing the assets and means of those seeking aid. Legal Aid is awaiting that advice from the Kaiyo Maru No. 8’s lawyers to ascertain the need for further provision of legal aid.”
Documents seen by Fairfax Media reveal the more than one-month struggle Mr Hughes went through to obtain the $390 grant of aid to communicate with his client.
The documents show Legal Aid was concerned about the case being moved to Victoria.
The $390 was granted to Mr Hughes by Legal Aid this week after it was approached for comment.
Mr Hughes took on Mr Wang's case for free after he was contacted by Hobart's Chinese community.