Independent review of decisions

Time limit

A person must request an independent review of a decision within 21 days after the date of Victoria Legal Aid's (VLA's) letter telling the person about the result of the internal reconsideration. This request must be in writing.

Waivers and extensions

In most matters, VLA may waive or extend the time period in which a person can request independent review of a decision. However, VLA will not waive or extend the time limit if the request for independent review relates to either a criminal trial or a criminal appeal in the County Court or in the Supreme Court.

Independent reviewers

Under section 18 of the Legal Aid Act 1978, the Victorian Attorney-General has appointed a panel of paid independent reviewers, including a panel chairperson.

A person may be appointed as an independent reviewer or panel chairperson if:

  • they are not a director, the CEO or an officer or employee of VLA
  • they are, in the Attorney-General’s opinion, a person with relevant knowledge and experience.

Each independent reviewer and panel chairperson has a term that does not exceed three years. However, each may:

  • be re-appointed
  • be removed by the Attorney-General at any time; or
  • resign.

Functions of independent reviewers

The functions of the independent reviewers, under section 19 of the Legal Aid Act are to:

  • exercise any power or function which VLA may delegate to them
  • when appointed by the panel chairperson, review VLA decisions or decisions of another independent reviewer relating to grants of legal assistance and the allocation of work amongst law practices
  • hear and determine any matter relating to VLA’s assignment of legally assisted matters to lawyers.

Under section 35 of the Legal Aid Act, an independent reviewer must review only the actual decision referred to them. In doing so, the independent reviewer must comply with:

  • the Legal Aid Act
  • any legal aid arrangement with the Commonwealth
  • the determinations of VLA’s Board including guidelines for the provision of legal aid.

The Board’s determinations include:

  • VLA’s State guidelines for funding
  • the fees VLA may pay lawyers in legally assisted cases.

An independent reviewer may confirm, change or reverse a VLA decision.

An independent reviewer may also, ‘in the interests of justice’, reconsider any of their own decisions and confirm, change or reverse that decision.

Provision of referral memo to independent reviewer

VLA will provide an independent reviewer with a memo referring the decision for review along with material received from the applicant and their lawyer in support of the application for legal assistance.

What if the independent reviewer was also the original decision-maker?

Sometimes, an independent reviewer may be the original decision-maker. However, this will happen only if a VLA staff member or a member of their family applies for a grant of legal assistance. In these cases, only an independent reviewer has the power to provide a grant of legal assistance to the person.

If the person seeks internal reconsideration of the original decision, then another independent reviewer (not a VLA staff member) will reconsider the decision. If the person then seeks independent review of that decision, then yet another independent reviewer will carry out the review.

Independent reviewer’s decision is final

The decision of an independent reviewer under section 35 of the Legal Aid Act is final and conclusive.