INDEPENDENT NEWS

Legal Aid Remuneration Instructions - Law Soc

Published: Mon 4 Oct 1999 03:40 PM
Legal Aid Remuneration Instructions - Law Soc
MEDIACOM-RELEASE-NZ-LAW-SOCIETY ACCESS TO JUSTICE ISSUE
"The latest Legal Aid Remuneration Instructions from the Legal Services Board will further reduce people's access to justice and quality legal representation," President of the NZ Law Society, Ian Haynes, said today.
The Instructions decrease the rates of payment for nearly all types of legal aid cases and, for many family law matters, the number of hours that lawyers can spend on cases. This follows significant streamlining which came into effect on 1 August last year. The new Instructions come into effect on 15 November.
"We are very disappointed that the Legal Services Board has been forced into this action. It seems a direct result of Government policy," Mr Haynes said.
"Despite increases in both the number of people and the types of cases eligible for legal aid, the Government has chosen to cap the legal aid budget. Obviously the Legal Services Board cannot control the ever-increasing demand, so it has been left with no option but to reduce the rates for all types of cases plus the number of hours lawyers can spend on some cases.
"Inevitably, when hours available for cases are reduced, as these revised Instructions do in the family law area, people on legal aid will get a lower quality service. Lawyers just won't have the time to conduct cases as thoroughly as they might merit, and firms will not be able to justify using more experienced practitioners on cases.
"We now have a situation where a lawyer with 10 years' experience will be getting $250 less to take out a combined protection, furniture and occupation order under the Domestic Violence Act than a lawyer with one year's experience is getting under the current Instructions.
"A major report has recently highlighted the difficulties women have in getting access to legal services. This will do nothing but exacerbate that situation.
"With these new Instructions, the legal profession is being asked yet again to increase its already substantial subsidising of the legal aid system because of government policy.
"The Government has obviously been swayed by ill-informed comment in the media as to inefficiencies in the legal aid system. Figures released by the Legal Services Board earlier this year showed that in the one area on which lawyers can have some effect - the cost of cases - costs were falling as a result of the 1998 Instructions.
"Practitioners are clearly doing their bit to contain legal aid expenditure where they can but they are now being penalised because the Government refuses to fund increasing demand, a factor over which lawyers have no control.
"The Legal Services Board has said there was extensive consultation with the Law Society over the revised Instructions but the consultation was over rules, not rates. We were not consulted about these rate changes and we are not happy with them," Mr Haynes said.
ENDS....

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