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Conflict of interest

Generally the same law centre will generally not provide legal representation to both sides of the same case, for conflict of interest reasons. A person who applies to a law centre for legal services where the other party has already applied will be referred to another law centre to make their application.

There is an exception in cases referable out under the District Court family law private practitioner scheme.  Both parties can in that case apply to the same law centre, provided that one or (ideally) both of the parties will be represented by a private practitioner. However, the person or persons who are being represented by a private practitioner must be referred without having received a first consultation in the law centre.

The procedure for conducting the conflict check is contained in Chapter 3 of the Administrative Procedures Handbook

However conflict arises in circumstances wider than simply representing both sides of the same case.  If we were to take a very strict view of conflict possibilities - for example a stricter view than would ordinarily be taken by solicitors in private practice - it could become very difficult to operate the service, particularly given that the Board is a single legal entity and all law centre solicitors are employed by the Board. In practice it has proved difficult to get solicitors / law centres to take certain ‘conflict’ cases, particularly those involving allegations of professional negligence against a solicitor. The Director of Civil Legal Aid may require a law centre to take a case where it is considered that an alleged or perceived conflict is not enough for the law centre to refuse to take the case. In determining where to assign conflict cases the Director of Civil Legal Aid may have regard to, among other things, the existing case mix of the law centre.

If you consider that a conflict situation has arisen, you should take appropriate steps to deal with the situation.  You should in the first instance judge for yourself whether or not there is a conflict situation and should take steps to avoid it. You may refer also to the guidelines on conflict and professional negligence cases. You may also consult with Legal Services if you experience any particular difficulties.