Free legal service abused, says Bar

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 December, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 December, 2000, 12:00am

More than one person with assets of $1 million has applied for free legal services provided by the Bar Association this year, amid warnings that resources of the scheme are under pressure.

The association said yesterday that response to the scheme had been 'tremendous' in the first six months of its operation. But with 132 applications received, only 68 has gone through the review process and help was only granted in nine cases. Just five cases were represented by barristers in courts.

The scheme, set up earlier this year, seeks to provide free legal advice and representation to people who cannot afford legal services in court proceedings, and who failed to get assistance from the Legal Aid Department. But the Bar indicated that people are abusing the service, run by barristers on voluntary basis. It said many applicants were not worth helping as they were financially capable of securing services.

'In more than one case, the applicants freely admit they have assets over the $1 million mark,' the association said.

It said because each application was investigated and considered by the scheme's management committee, abusers had created a considerable drain on the scheme's resources. The association hoped the scheme's resources could be devoted more effectively to applications that merited help, rather than to processing applications which did not meet the scheme's objectives.

Eighty-six barristers have registered for the scheme and will work free of charge for three days, or 20 hours, a year. Applications are considered by the 16-member voluntary management committee, where each case is considered by one member. Successful cases are then allocated to barristers.