When I began practising in the criminal law over 40 years ago there was no such thing as a duty solicitor to assist unrepresented defendants. The overnight custody list in the Adelaide Magistrates Court was often something of a (fairly sad) pantomime with many down and out defendants doing their struggling best to deal with sometimes combative Magistrates. That has all changed with the advent of the duty solicitor service. It is not only defendants who benefit. The court is also a big winner. In my ten years as a Judge in the Youth Court I derived great comfort from the daily presence of duty solicitors skilfully helping young people navigate their way through the trouble in which they found themselves. I am sure that Magistrates throughout the State would agree with me.
This is the fourth edition of the duty solicitor handbook. It is a practical guide to the work of duty solicitors who are working in the Magistrates Court and the Youth Court. It is the culmination of what has obviously been a great deal of hard work by the many lawyers who have contributed to it their knowledge and professional skills. Whilst its primary use will be by the duty solicitors of the Legal Services Commission, I am sure it will be a valued reference source for all practitioners who appear in Courts of Summary Jurisdiction. Among its other virtues it provides an invaluable guide to the plethora of legislation in this area over the last 20 years or so.
A bound paper copy of this manual will become something of a rarity in the future as its contents become an on-line reference source, accessible to legal practitioners through the Commission’s website. This inevitable change will allow for regular updates of amendments to legislation and court procedures but sadly – in my view (as one who has absolutely no desire to own a Kindle) – it will also mean the eventual demise of the hard copy, with all its convenience, tactile appeal and scope for (generally indecipherable) handwritten notes.
The handbook is above all a practical work providing not only learning but much invaluable sound and commonsense advice. For instance it deals comprehensively with the operation of the various specialist courts (including Nunga Courts – how things have changed for the better in the way we deal with Aboriginal people in the justice system than we did those 40 years ago). Most of that advice is founded on the experience of those who have toiled in those courts and, like so much of the handbook, provides what I might call an insider’s insight into the daily work of duty solicitors.
I have no doubt that the handbook will be a most welcome and useful companion for duty solicitors at the Commission. But I am sure it will have a much wider reading audience than that. Experienced legal practitioners will find much practical wisdom within its pages. Whilst the handbook is not intended to be an authority on criminal law and procedure in South Australia it will, I predict, become not just a valuable guide, but an indispensable one, for those who serve their clients in the important jurisdiction of the Magistrates Court.
Barry Jennings QC
Chief Counsel, Legal Services Commission 1985-89
Former Judge of the Youth Court