Story 3: Representing Mary – Lawyer Steps Up Voluntarily in Court

2010: New South Wales

Cessnock Court House

Years ago, I was at Court running a defended criminal hearing for a client. The matter that I was involved in was the only matter remaining at Court apart from a person in custody, Mary (not her real name), who had been arrested that day and was yet to go before the Magistrate. As the duty solicitor had already departed from Court, I was asked if I would be able to assist Mary.

When I went and spoke with Mary at the police station, Mary’s manner of speech and responses to my questions made me think that perhaps she had an intellectual disability. I reviewed Mary’s criminal record and custody management record before asking Mary if she had an intellectual disability, to which Mary responded no.

I asked Mary some more questions and learnt that Mary received the Disability Support Pension (DSP) from Centrelink, that Mary had been in special classes at school and that she still lived at home with her mum as Mary was unable to live alone.

I was at a loss when speaking with Mary to think that she had had so many interactions with the criminal justice system and that no one had noticed that Mary may have been struggling with an intellectual disability.

I obtained further instructions from Mary and was instructed to seek an adjournment to allow for the making of an application for bail and for mental health care as an alternative to the criminal justice system (Section 32 application). Thankfully Mary was granted bail and the matter was adjourned.

I continued to represent Mary even though she could not afford to pay any legal fees and her application to Legal Aid was refused. I could simply not fathom letting her go back to Court without legal representation. I was able to have Mary assessed by a psychologist without cost and have a suitable report prepared to support a Section 32 application. I also made a number of referrals to local support services who could assist Mary on an ongoing basis. When the matter returned to Court the Section 32 application was successful.

Mary and her mum were incredibly grateful at the time and Mary will still ring me occasionally to let me know how she is going. Mary has not been back to Court since and continues to receive support from community organisations.

This story was submitted by Kim Richardson, Solicitor.