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Judge angry legal funding removed for Adam Cranston, architect of one of Australia's biggest tax frauds

Adam Cranston is awaiting sentencing after being found guilty of two charges related to a multi-million-dollar tax fraud. (AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

A NSW judge says he's "lost for words" and "flabbergasted" by a decision to withdraw funding for the legal representation of one of the architects of a $105 million tax fraud conspiracy.

Adam Cranston is one of five people found guilty of two charges over various roles in the Plutus Payroll scam, which ran for about three years to 2017.

He is the son of former Australian Tax Office (ATO) deputy commissioner Michael Cranson, who is not accused of wrongdoing, and faced a lengthy NSW Supreme Court trial along with his sister, Lauren.

As Adam Cranston awaits sentence, Justice Anthony Payne was on Thursday told of a decision by the Commonwealth attorney-general to drop out of a funding arrangement.

Benjamin May, a solicitor for the Australian government, told the court the decision was "conveyed" at the beginning of the month because sentence proceedings would not fall within "special circumstances".

"This is quite remarkable," Justice Payne said.

"You can take it I'm very unhappy about this, why am I only hearing about this now?"

Justice Anthony Payne said he was "very unhappy" about the decision.

Justice Payne said having been a judge for quite some time, it took a lot to leave him lost for words.

"And I am lost for words," he said.

The court heard that following a personal intervention by the previous Commonwealth attorney-general, Michaelia Cash, a funding arrangement had been put in place.

"I'm flabbergasted that the [current] attorney has personally taken this decision, I'm flabbergasted," Justice Payne said.

The judge said the cost to the community of briefing new representation after a year-long trial would be "astronomical" and lamented the "tug of war" between the Commonwealth and the states, which he described as "profoundly unhelpful".

'Significant public interest' in development

Shortly before his May 2017 arrest, court orders resulted in Cranston's existing and future income and property being restrained under the Proceeds of Crime Act, which does not allow forfeited assets to be used for funding a defence.

However, that legislation does allow for the Legal Aid Commission to be reimbursed from seized assets if a person is granted legal aid.

In a January 2021 written judgement, Justice Payne urged Legal Aid NSW and the Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department to reconsider their refusal to provide Cranston with legal aid to fund representation.

Following that judgement, Legal Aid was granted by the Commonwealth, which has been in place since.

On Thursday, Justice Payne said he proposed to write a judgement about the development and directed a transcript of the hearing be sent to representatives of the Commonwealth attorney-general and NSW Legal Aid.

"I think there is a significant public interest in setting out what's happened and the operation of our criminal justice system in a very serious case."

The attorney-general's department said Cranston had applied for financial aid.

"While his guilt was being determined Mr Cranston was provided with extensive taxpayer-funded Commonwealth legal financial assistance," the department said in a statement.

"The standard process for individuals who wish to access financial assistance is to apply to the legal aid commission in the state and territory they are located and we understand that Mr Cranston has taken steps to explore this option."

Cranston's case will be back before court next week.

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