Completing the matters screen involves understanding a number of key concepts.
1. State or Commonwealth?
The first task is to determine whether you will be recommending assistance for a State matter, or a Commonwealth matter.
In family and civil law, the task is generally very easy, and you can proceed immediately to 2. In criminal law, a brief/indictment may contain a mixture of State and Commonwealth matters.
You should firstly consider the merits of the application as it relates to the Commonwealth counts under the Commonwealth guideline.
If you are of the view the matters do not qualify for assistance under the Commonwealth guidelines, the brief/indictment should then be considered under the State guidelines.
2. What is a matter group?
A matter group in ATLAS describes matters that share a commonality of legal substance.
Assume an accused person is charged with many counts arising out of their apprehension following a street brawl. He/she may be charged with a range of assaults (of varying seriousness); and may also be charged with ancillary matters that arose out of the same incident (eg. driving whilst disqualified, possession of illicit drugs). In this instance, the matter groups are ‘assault’, ‘other driving and traffic offences’, and ‘drug and related offences’ respectively.
In other instances in criminal law, various groups may arise as the result of a consolidation of different briefs.
3. Nominating a matter type
Once a group has been selected, then the matter type must be nominated. A ‘matter type’ is an item from the picklist that most closely describes the charge or subject matter within the matter group for which assistance is sought.
Continuing with the above example, the ‘assault’ group includes a range of offences involving assault. For example, the group includes ‘intentionally cause serious injury’ (at the higher end), down to 'assault' at the lower end. You should select the relevant offence from the picklist.
4. Nominating the primary matter
The basic rules are:
- If you recommend/requests legal assistance, then the ‘primary matter’ is the most significant count/cause of action that satisfies the relevant guideline.
- If you wants to recommend an overall refusal of legal assistance (ie. that assistance for all matters is to be refused), then the ‘primary matter’ is the most significant count/cause of action that does not satisfy the relevant guideline.
- The ‘primary matter’ is also the matter upon which the ‘Guidelines’ section of any professional costs request is based.
There is only one primary matter per application or extension.
Frequently asked questions
What if there is a second, or third, matter group, within a particular brief?
Subject to the limitations below, these should be disclosed. Create each matter group, and then disclose the matter type. Please do not nominate more than four matter groups.
Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) does not require you to nominate groups which are not really relevant to whether assistance should be granted. For instance, in the example given in step 2, the inclusion of a minor count, such as indecent language, within a fresh matter group is discouraged. It would not usually qualify for a grant of assistance, unless the accused was a minor.
If I nominate more than one group, what must I remember?
Always remember that if you have two or more matter groups being aided, you must always be careful to nominate the ‘primary matter’ as being the one you want aided. It is also the matter that you say meets the guideline.
If there is a mixture of recommendations/requests for and against granting assistance, then ideally put the matter that attracts an affirmative recommendation as the primary matter.
If your recommendation or request for assistance involves two or more groups of refusals, you should put the most serious matter in the primary group.
Do I need to add ‘lesser’ or ‘back up’ charges within the same matter group?
Providing that there is space within the limit of four available matter groups, please include lesser or backup charges (subject to the comments above).
Reviewed 24 January 2022