Legal aid remuneration rates

MEDIA RELEASE

17 October 2007

For immediate use

Legal aid remuneration rates

"Legal aid remuneration rates for lawyers are still largely at the level they were in 1996. Given this, the recommendation of Provider Remuneration Advisory Panel set up by the Legal Services Agency that rates be increased by some 15.9% is very disappointing and, at best, is a bare minimum," the President of the New Zealand Law Society, John Marshall QC, said today.

He did, however, welcome the development of a transparent model for future reviews, and a recommendation that the Legal Services Agency continue to review time allowances for certain work and the impact of its administrative requirements.

John Marshall was giving an initial response to the panel’s report on its review of legal aid remuneration rates. The Society’s Board will consider its formal response at a meeting in early November.

The review was instigated in the face of increasing lawyer dissatisfaction over legal aid remuneration, which has seen them working for about two-thirds of the rates paid to Crown solicitors prosecuting the same cases and with no increase since 1996, despite increasing costs.

John Marshall said that while a 15.9% increase might sound generous, in the last 11 years the CPI had increased 26.3%, Crown solicitor rates 27.7%, District Court judges’ salaries 42.1% and solicitors’ salaries 59%.

"This increase, while a step in the right direction, does not get near to addressing that.

"It has become uneconomic for most lawyers to do legal aid work and the number actively engaged in this work has decreased significantly. Many law firms have decided they can no longer afford to train younger lawyers to do legal aid work, and increasingly senior lawyers with experience are declining to act.

"This has serious implications as far as access to justice is concerned.

"The Society firmly believes that every New Zealander has the right to obtain legal advice and representation. With the increase in eligibility earlier this year, many more people now qualify for legal aid but that is of no help if they can’t find a lawyer to take their case.

"That is why we have been pushing for an increase in legal aid remuneration rates that will attract lawyers back to legal aid work and retain them, but these proposed rates are unlikely to do that.

"We are not convinced that this recommended increase will be sufficient to ensure that there are enough experienced lawyers to provide legal representation to everyone who needs it and who is entitled to legal aid," he said.

"The principle that all people are equal before the law is eroded when Crown prosecutors are paid significantly more than legal aid defence lawyers. Even with this increase, the top rate for defence lawyers will still be close to 15% less than Crown prosecutors. But that is only part of the story, as Crown prosecutors are paid by the half-day, while legal aid lawyers are paid according to tightly constrained, and sometimes unrealistic, set times for particular work.

"All this brings into sharp focus the issue of access to justice. We have a legal aid system so that people without the means to pay can have their rights protected. Yet that has been undermined in recent years and we are seeing people either with no representation or having to accept a lesser level of experience than their case demands.

"They, and the profession, will be disappointed at the outcome of the current review," John Marshall said.

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For further comment, contact:

John Marshall, tel (04) 499 0464 or 021 243 2812 (but note, he is out of the country until 21 October)

Jonathan Temm, NZLS Board member, tel (07) 349 0460 or 027 486 2341

James Wilding, Convener, NZLS Legal Services Committee, tel (03) 365 1255 (work)

Contact: John Marshall

Phone: tel (04) 499 0464 or 021 243 2812

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