THE Director of Audit's comments on the Legal Department, presented to the Legislative Council yesterday, make interesting reading. Anecdotal evidence over a number of years suggesting that all is not well at the department is buttressed in the report by examples of innovative accounting and inefficient management methods that should make Attorney-General Jeremy Mathews blush. To pick a single example, the Director of Audit calculated that a Crown Counsel of the Prosecutions Division spent an average of only 67 days a year in court. The Attorney-General contended that a fairer calculation would be based on time spent in court by 'advocates', excluding Crown Counsel whose main duties did not involve court appearances. Such a distinction is questionable, as only 31 per cent of Crown Counsel in the Prosecutions Division are classified as advocates. More disturbing, however, is the Legal Department's own calculation of court days for Crown Counsel. Here, the department divides the number of court days of all Crown Counsel in the division (including non-advocates) by the number of advocates. The result is an inflated average of 121 days. When it is department policy to be so economical with the truth, it is not so surprising that no one questioned the practice of paying a former Crown Counsel, Graham Grant, up to $707,850 a month to complete the work he abandoned when he left the department. No one is suggesting any wrongdoing by Mr Grant, but the public might reasonably have hoped someone at the department would have queried claims of up to 17.5 hours a day at $3,025 an hour. The department's soul-searching began only after it was revealed that in the 33 months after he quit government, Mr Grant made an average of $520,115 a month from the work 'briefed out' to him. The Director of Audit notes that in its prosecution records, the department does not explain why it engaged in the costly practice of briefing out. Other interesting practices pointed out by the auditor include treating maximum fees approved by the Finance Committee as minimum fees, and paying more in special cases. This contrasts with the practice of the Legal Aid Department, which in 1993 paid less than the maximum in 84 per cent of cases. In cases where exceptional fees are paid, the Legal Department lacks a mechanism to ensure that counsel's claims are reasonable, the auditor says. If the Legal Department were a public company, the chief executive would have been fired long ago.