Law Society response to legal aid review discussion paper

Media release for immediate use

1 September 2009

Law Society response to legal aid review discussion paper

“Dame Margaret Bazley has raised some very pertinent questions about legal aid in the discussion paper arising out of the first stage of her fundamental review of legal aid.  The Law Society welcomes the opportunity this provides to contribute to the development of an improved legal aid system,” New Zealand Law Society President John Marshall QC said today (1 September).

“We are very pleased that Dame Margaret recognises that the strength of the system is its partnership with the private sector and the way it can leverage off the networks of lawyers throughout New Zealand.  

“She has observed that it is becoming harder to attract and retain good, experienced lawyers in the legal aid system, for a variety of reasons, including pay rates and administrative obligations; and that the pay rates and structures do not create sufficient incentive for senior lawyers to train junior lawyers.

“It is gratifying to have these problems identified in the context of the review. The Law Society has said for many years that the levels of remuneration were driving away the more experienced lawyers and that this must ultimately affect the overall quality of legal aid services.

“Legal aid rates have increased by around only 8% in the last 13 years, and the failure to address this issue properly is one of the causes of the current problems in the system,” John Marshall said.

“Dame Margaret has rightly identified quality as an issue and the Law Society is aware of this.

“Currently, lawyers must have at least six months’ experience before commencing practice as a barrister sole, but we are looking to extend that period to three years to bring it into line with the experience requirements for lawyers in practice as barristers and solicitors on their own account.

“That will, along with supervision and training, have a positive impact on the quality of legal aid services.

 “The society also offers a wide range of continuing legal education courses that enable lawyers to upgrade their skills in relevant areas of law.

“We note the paper’s question as to whether the Law Society, as the regulator of lawyers, or the Legal Services Agency, as the purchaser of legal services, should have primary responsibility for the quality of legal aid services, or whether that should be shared.

“Obviously, that is something we will be discussing with the Legal Services Agency in preparing our response to the paper.  

“It is very important that this review results in a system that sees access to justice provided for those who need it by legal aid lawyers who provide a good quality service and who receive fair remuneration for that,” John Marshall said.

ENDS

Contact: John Marshall QC, NZLS President

Phone: (04) 499 0464

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