fair trial, law

‘in forma pauperis’ … the poor persons legal assistance act for granting legal aid to the poor




Here at home again is my beautiful feliscatus, Hattie (Hatticus Finch), a lithe, sleek & svelte brown Burmese who is never far away from me.

I’ll find some images of her when she first arrived as a kitten in January 2019 though there’s some on Instagram.

Here she embraces her junior lawyer role, her ‘Advocatticus Finch’ role. Perhaps paralegal, or legal assistant, is more accurate as she briefly researches the old ‘in forma pauperis‘ law in the South Australian Statutes 1837-1936 Vol 6.

I have a small collection of vintage law books including some South Australian Statutes.




There’s no doubt Hatticus follows in the foot steps of Atticus Finch, the Alabama criminal defence attorney in Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, after whom she was named. She has the innate talent for legal research & analysis 🙂




Back to the matter at hand:

In South Australia (SA), legal aid for the poor (in forma pauperis) started with the Poor Persons Legal Assistance Act (1925), an Act to make provision for granting of legal assistance to poor persons. See images above.

In SA, legal aid was also provided via S3(2)(b) if the judge was satisfied:

the person committed for trial should be defended by counsel‘ and ‘is satisfied that the person committed does not have adequate means to hire a lawyer or summon witnesses.’


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Take a closer look at S3(2)(a) & you’ll see that at the time (1925), a person could be capitally convicted in SA resulting in punishment of death.  No wonder the Judge could decide that a person should have the assistance of counsel. Judicially sanctioned death, being executed, the death penalty, is always different.

Death is different.

I’m grateful, that in SA, we now don’t face being charged with capital offences, possibly being executed.  The last person hanged at Adelaide Gaol was Glen Sabre Valance on 24 November 1964.

More on ‘In Forma Pauperis‘ below.




Here’s what happened on execution day in South Australia:

On the day of execution, the prisoner was woken at 6 am and taken to a holding cell where they ate their final meal. Here they waited while preparations for the execution took place. The beam wasn’t erected until the prisoner was secure in the holding cell. The rope was tied to the beam and officials would arrive.

The hangman escorted the prisoner to the trap just before 8 am. The hangman’s assistant tied their ankles and hands and, if they desired, a religious leader would attend them.

A hood was placed over the prisoner’s head and face and the hanging rope was secured around their neck with the knot placed under the left ear.

The prisoner stood facing the window and a sheet was hung below to obscure the body as it dropped. If it was suspected that a prisoner might faint, two boards were placed across the trap and two officers would hold the prisoner upright.

The hangman would receive the signal, the trap would fall and the body would be left to hang for one hour.

After this time, an inquest would be held to determine the cause of death. While this may seem unnecessary, death may have occurred from strangulation, heart attack or snapping of the spinal cord.

Executed prisoners were buried between the inner and outer walls of Adelaide Gaol, with only their initials and the execution date painted on the wall to mark their grave. A plain pine coffin was filled with quick lime to speed up the decomposition process. A body would only be released to family if a pardon was granted.

The last person hanged at Adelaide Gaol was Glen Sabre Valance on 24 November 1964 before capital punishment was finally abolished in South Australia in December 1976.

The last person to be executed in Australia, ‘hanged by the neck until he was dead‘, was Ronald Ryan at Pentridge Prison, Victoria in 1967.

Currently, the sentence of life imprisonment (in some states ‘penal servitude for life’, ‘strict security life imprisonment’, or ‘for the term of his natural life’) has become the most severe sanction authorised by Australian law.



Ultimately the Poor Persons Legal Assistance Act 1925 [ceased] was repealed by the Legal Services Commission Act 1977 an Act of the SA State Parliament establishing the Legal Services Commission to provide for legal assistance for persons throughout the State.  Today the Legal Services Commission is the foremost legal aid body in SA.

National Legal Aid is the umbrella body for legal aid commissions in Australia.




That all people should have the means to access justice is basically a universal principal & one that is alive & well in Australia.

Why should legal aid not be provided to those unable to pay for a lawyer, to those unable to pay for a fair trial, unable to pay for justice, when facing criminal proceedings?

Nobody should be deprived of the ability to defend themselves against the heavy hand of the law.

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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) Article 7: Equality before the law states:

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.  All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

The International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights (ICCPR) Article 2 (1) states:

Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

The (ICCPR)  Article 26 states:

All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. 



In Forma Pauperis via Wikipedia

In forma pauperis is a Latin legal term meaning “in the character or manner of a pauper”.[1] It refers to the ability of an indigent person to proceed in court without payment of the usual fees associated with a lawsuit or appeal.[1]

In Forma Pauperis

[Latin, In the character or manner of a pauper.]  A phrase that indicates the permission given by a court to an indigent to initiate a legal action without  having to pay for court  fees or  costs due to his or her lack of financial resources.

West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

in forma pauperis (in form-ah paw-purriss) adj. or adj. 

Latin for “in the form of a pauper,” referring to a party to a lawsuit who gets filing fees waived by  filing  a  declaration  of  lack  of  funds  (has no money to pay).

These  declarations are  most often found  in divorces by young marrieds, or poor  defendants  who have been sued.  Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.

IN FORMA PAUPERIS: In the character or form of a pauper.

In England, in some cases, when a poor person cannot afford to pay the costs of a suit as it proceeds, he is exempted from such payment, having obtained leave to sue in forma pauperis.


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A younger Hattie as a kitten. This little darl’n was born on 9 November 2018 in Adelaide & arrived here at Fat Lawyer Farm in January 2019.