New Duty List Pro-Bono Solicitor at Wollongong

A group of local lawyers have put their heads together to help people faced with coming to the Wollongong court who don’t have a lawyer and cant qualify for Legal Aid.

At Wollongong Court House, most new criminal matters are listed in a call-over list on Tuesday mornings (starting at 9.30). The list is where people often find themselves when they first come to court, frequently without any idea what is going on or what they are supposed to do next. 

On Thursdays, the Apprehended Violence Order List sits in Court Five at Wollongong from about 10 AM and this is where people will find themselves if they have an AVO being taken out against them.

These days can be confusing and difficult and often people who are unrepresented can be in need of some guidance and help. 

From the start of April 2013 there will be a Duty List Solicitor there, from the local private legal profession, to provide simple advice and pointers on what your options are and what to do next. It’s all pro-bono (meaning it’s free).

This is service is run by private practitioners who are helping the Court by providing advice to defendants and accused people who are appearing for themselves and require some pointers. Based on similar initiatives at the Sydney Downing Centre Local Court and elsewhere in the state, this is a special contribution made by private lawyers to assist the community.

People will be able to obtain the help of a Duty List Pro-Bono Solicitor on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9.30 AM until approximately 11.30 AM. Where a person is unrepresented the Magistrate may refer that person to the Duty List Pro-Bono Solicitor for some advice before proceeding to deal with the matter.

Local Law Firms who are participating in this scheme are: 

Kernaghan & Associates     Good Legal     Graeme Morrison Law     Helen Volk Legal

Wollongong Court to Close for Renovations

Wollongong Court will close at the end of next year, but for how long….?

According to a report by Emma Spillet, Chief Magistrate Judge Graeme Henson wrote to the Law Society of NSW earlier this month about the closure, saying Wollongong Local Court matters would be relisted at Port Kembla, Kiama, Albion Park and Sutherland.

Wollongong and District Law Society president David Potts has slammed the decision, saying a partial closure would have been a better option.

“Although the renovations will take longer, the inconvenience to the community would likely be reduced,” he said.

“Our concern is that this closure will make it very difficult for many people in the area; it’s likely that thousands of people will be affected [including] parties to proceedings, witnesses and the police.”

A spokesman for the Attorney-General’s Department said closing the court was the least disruptive option: “Conducting court sittings at a noisy and dusty construction site is not an option and would cause significant delays to the completion of the project.”

Mr Potts said the society was particularly concerned about defendants in custody, as it understood there were limited cell facilities at other courts in the region.

Full story here.

Gay Marriage: Listen to the US Supreme Court Argue

One of the great things about the US legal system is its genuine attempt to be transparent and open. The US Supreme Court makes available audio recordings of the oral argument (submissions by lawyers and questioning by the members of the bench) and there are a number of projects that maintain those recordings online for availability. Better yet, transcripts are almost immediately available. In a country as large as that, with a case load to boot, what an achievement. If only the High Court of Australia could manage something similar, so that all of us (and not just Canberrans) might be able to hear first-hand the arguments in our nations highest court.

This week, the US Supreme Court is considering, in part, gay marriage and yesterday they reviewed DOMA. In a case named United States v Windsor (Docket No. 12-307).

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), enacted in 1996, states that, for the purposes of federal law, the words “marriage” and “spouse” refer to legal unions between one man and one woman. Since that time, some states have authorized same-sex marriage. In other cases regarding the DOMA, federal courts have ruled it unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment, but the courts have disagreed on the rationale.

Edith Windsor is the widow and sole executor of the estate of her late spouse, Thea Clara Spyer, who died in 2009. The two were married in Toronto, Canada, in 2007, and their marriage was recognized by New York state law. Thea Syper left her estate to her spouse, and because their marriage was not recognized by federal law, the government imposed $363,000 in taxes. Had their marriage been recognized, the estate would have qualified for a marital exemption, and no taxes would have been imposed.

On November 9, 2010 Windsor filed suit in district court seeking a declaration that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. At the time the suit was filed, the government’s position was that DOMA must be defended. On February 23, 2011, the President and the Attorney General announced that they would not defend DOMA. On April 18, 2011, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives filed a petition to intervene in defense of DOMA and motioned to dismiss the case. The district court denied the motion, and later held that DOMA was unconstitutional. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed.

The questions on this appeal are:

Does the executive branch’s agreement with the lower court that the act is unconstitutional deprive the Supreme Court of jurisdiction to decide the case?

Does the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives have standing in the case?

Does the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines the term “marriage” under federal law as a “legal union between one man and one woman” deprive same-sex couples who are legally married under state laws of their Fifth Amendment rights to equal protection under federal law?

The full audio and transcripts can be found here.

RIGHT TO SILENCE DYING A DEATH

Wollongong solicitor Aaron Kernaghan has taken a swipe at new laws that effectively “roll back” a person’s right to silence, creating more work for solicitors, academics and law students.

The Evidence of Silence legislation was passed in Parliament last week, allowing juries to draw a negative inference if an accused wants to divulge information during a trial that they did not initially provide to police.

Mr Kernaghan said the reforms, introduced to assist police in the fight against organised crime, were unacceptable.

“It’s created a situation where the right to silence is still on the books but it can now be used against people; it’s really creating a risk of prejudice,” he said.


Full story here.

SPEAK NOW OR…

Speak now or forever hold your peace.

When a Policeman comes looking to speak to you, with the changing laws on right to silence, you won’t be able to use your right. Because you’ll be told that you have to speak now or, if you do later, a jury might think you were making it up. 

This is an outrage. With all their powers, all their resources, are we seriously accepting the notion that the NSW Police are so daft in their ability that they can’t investigate and fight crime unless the government does everything it can to MAKE people speak to them? 

But the Government dress it up so that it looks like you can still refuse to speak if you wish. But if you do so, you now risk penalty, a prejudice. That is, your right to silence can only be exercised under pain of being subject to adverse directions from a judge or conclusions by a jury.

That isn’t a full nor free exercise of a right. It’s cowardly coercive action by Police, adopted into legislation by a Parliament who appears (by this act at least) to enact more laws confining rights than confirming them.

Aaron Kernaghan.

YOUR RIGHTS ARE GOING GOING GONE.

HOT OFF THE SMH ONLINE:

Disgraceful attack on our rights – obviously first class representation by our Members of Parliament: 

Shooters and Fishers Party MPs have backflipped on their decision to vote against the government’s controversial plan to abolish the right to silence.

After spending several hours in a government briefing on Wednesday the two MPs, Robert Borsak and Robert Brown, voted in support of the government bills, giving the government the numbers it needed to pass them.

One law will abolish the right to silence, allowing juries to draw an adverse inference if people accused of a crime chose not to take part in police interviews, but later relied on evidence they did not disclose.

The other law will make it compulsory for the defence and prosecution to outline their cases weeks before trial, to prevent the prosecution from being surprised by arguments. If the accused raises a different defence at trial, the judge could instruct the jury to draw an unfavourable conclusion.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/mps-backflip-on-right-to-silence-decision-20130320-2gfwk.html#ixzz2O7Q7PXkz

KERNAGHAN’S CORNER: MT KEIRA

Mt Keira looks down over the region each day, not asking a great deal from any of us, but silently bookending the city between the sea and the green hills.

The lookout and its value to the city must be hard to identify, because of all the recent talk of it falling by the wayside and being given up to the mountain for good. But retaining it must surely be an important consideration in a city that isn’t light on for magnificent vistas, but perhaps a bit light on for ways to enjoy them.

Full story here.

Crucifixions, Firing Squads, Oh My

As a new Pope is announced, it may be timely to point out that crucifixion is a possible punishment in Saudi Arabia where recently men were ordered to be executed in that fashion. Apparently that hasn’t gone ahead.

Meanwhile, executions have proceeded on a group of men (including some who were children when they were charged) for stealing.

Who needs lawyers when there are safe-guards like these?

SPA, the official Saudi New agency, issued a statement on behalf of the Ministry of Interior that starts with a Quranic verse from the chapter “The Table Spread.”

“The punishment of those who wage war against God and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter.”

I don’t know how that ties into anything or even if that’s about this case, but any how, check out the full story here. and here.