The Case of Dietrich v The Queen

A court case in which a law is interpreted differently than ever before often makes whatever particular subject of the case reach headlines. There is usually quite a bit of controversy. When a ruling is brought down in these situations it can influence the future of similar cases in the future. Dietrich v The Queen in 1992 was a great example of such a court case.

Dietrich v The Queen was a very important case concerning the nature of the right to a fair trial. It also highlighted in what circumstances legal aid should be provided by the state for defendants who cannot afford legal representation. The issue began when the accused, Olaf Dietrich flew from Bangkok, Thailand to Melbourne Airport concealing 70 grams of heroin in condoms that he had swallowed. Australian Federal Police arrested Dietrich the next morning and he was taken into custody. 

While being tried in the County Court of Victoria for charges relating to drug trafficking the accused did not have any legal representation. While Dietrich had applied for the Legal Aid Commission of Victoria’s assistance, it said that unless he pleaded guilty it would not help him. Dietrich refused to plead, and instead applied to the Supreme Court of Victoria for assistance, but once again was turned down. While Dietrich was acquitted of the lesser charge, he was convicted on the principal charge in the County Court. Dietrich then took his appeal to the Supreme Court, which refused to hear it. Finally, he then sought leave to appeal to the High Court of Australia.

During the appeal in the High Court Dietrich was represented by David Grace of the Queen’s Counsel. The argument stated that his trial in County Court had been a miscarriage of justice because he did not have legal representation. His lawyer argued that because of the seriousness of the crimes he was charged with counsel should have been provided to him at the public’s expense. If that was not possible, it was alternatively argued that the judge should have adjourned the trial until Dietrich could obtain counsel for himself. 

Dietrich used three different sources in law to prove his point. The first was a section of the Victorian Crimes Act 1958 which has since been repealed. The second was the obligation of Australia under the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The article of importance in the Covenant provides that an accused person should have legal assistance provided in any case where the interest of justice so required. Australia hasn’t incorporated the ICCPR into its own domestic laws with any type of specific legislation, however, Dietrich argued that common law of Australia should be developed in principle of the ICCPR and other international treaties that the country is a part of. 

In the High Court, the majority of judges decided that Dietrich did have the right to a fair trial and by not allowing him proper legal representation the original trial was unfair. Furthermore, it was concluded that when someone accused does not have legal representation, through no fault of their own and is charged with a serious offence, a judge can order than a trial is stayed until legal representation is available.

The nature of this trial focused on the common law tradition that anyone accused is entitled to a fair trial. This case was significant in not only criminal law, but also in Australian constitutional law because members of the High Court found implied human rights in the Australian Constitution.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Lawyer

The type of legal matter will determine what sort of lawyer you’ll need. However, there are many other aspects to take into consideration when choosing a lawyer. Finding the right legal counsel is important so it’s necessary to do research and ensure that it’s a good fit.

Here are a few factors to consider when choosing a lawyer.


The reputation of a firm is something to pay attention to. A good firm will uphold a reputation for honesty not only among clients, but also its peers. It’s also important that the firm has strong drafting skills. Do your research and look for references so that you have an idea of the firm’s integrity.


It’s important to consider the experience of your representation. Not only should you consider the number of years that a lawyer or firm has been in practice, but also whether or not they have any reported decisions. While it’s important to settle when it makes sense, it’s necessary to prepare for trial when things can’t be settled outside of court. If your case ends up going to court you’ll want to feel confident in the abilities of your lawyers during a trial.


If you are an Australian who is facing legal action from somewhere outside of the country you’ll want to know whether or not the firm has any experience partnering with international, regional, or national firms. Furthermore, if they do have experience find out if the outcomes were successful in those cases. If a lawyer is going to be dealing with laws and lawyers from different countries then make sure that your case won’t be there first time getting that experience.


Ask the firm to see a Case Study or Practice Area summaries so that you can see examples of their work. It’s not enough to seek a good lawyer, find a great one. The track record of the firm you choose should have fantastic results.


Make sure that the lawyer or firm understands your financial budget and will settle on a number that works for both of you. Avoid lawyers that make you believe that they’re looking to make a quick buck or aren’t being practical on how they are approaching your case.


Value can go hand in hand with practicality. Make sure that you know what you will be expected to pay for the legal services. Develop a clear understanding of the contract and if you are paying on contingency then know the percentage that you’ll expect whether or case goes to court or settles.

Sometimes it can be difficult to draw a line between personal and business legal interests. That makes it all the more important to have a lawyer with the right experience and confidence to use their abilities to work towards getting you the results you need. It is extremely important to understand the legal position that you are in when choosing a lawyer to represent you.