With the help of legal aid, bullied retail worker Jessica would have been given advice on her legal options following an altercation. She wouldn’t have to represent herself and may still be employed.

 

Jessica is a 22-year-old trainee retail worker, who obtained her position after a long period of job-hunting, which her employment counsellor says is largely due to her lack of education.

She earns slightly more than the unemployment benefit.

At work she is bullied by a permanent co-worker. The co-worker taunts Jessica about her boyfriend and her out-of-work clothing.

One afternoon, Jessica “cracks” and there is a physical altercation, during which Jessica wrenches the co-worker’s earring, causing a laceration to her earlobe.

Jessica is charged with intentionally causing serious injury, among others. However, the CCTV footage shows a reasonable prospect of a self-defence contest.

Jessica applies for and is refused legal aid because there was “no real prospect of immediate imprisonment”.

The duty lawyer has a summary case conference with the prosecutor, although neither see the CCTV footage, which is not attached to the brief of evidence. The prosecutor is prepared to accept a plea to a recklessly cause injury.

Jessica now has two choices: offer the plea, and have the matter dealt with by the duty lawyer, or book it in for a contest mention hearing, when she will have to represent herself. She opts for the hearing.

The duty lawyer assembles some good plea material and a without conviction undertaking (with a condition that Jessica undergo anger management counselling) is the outcome.

Result: Jessica is sacked because, despite the CCTV footage, “you were found guilty in a Court of law”. After eighteen job applications made over several weeks, she secured three interviews. A police check was required for each, and she was questioned about the circumstances of her Undertaking. She remains unemployed.

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