Law Society restates position in legal aid debate

The New Zealand Law Society understands the concerns expressed by criminal lawyers about changes to the legal aid system and will continue to communicate those concerns and work to lessen the impact of the changes, Law Society President Jonathan Temm says

However, the Law Society has also consistently advised that suggestions that lawyers take strike action or work to rule is not a practical option, he says.

“Our view is that strike action is inappropriate and not an available lawful option, given the individual legal aid contracts that apply. In addition, legal aid providers are not simply contractors to the Legal Services Agency – they also have obligations to the courts and their clients,” he says.

The Law Society has communicated this view to all criminal lawyers and has kept the legal profession informed of developments and their likely consequences. Its priority is high quality legal aid services delivered by all lawyers involved in the system.

Mr Temm says the Law Society has always focused on ensuring the views of the legal profession are communicated and listened to on legal aid.

“When the government made major changes to the eligibility criteria in 2007, we pointed out the inevitable rise in costs. When the Bazley report raised legal aid quality issues in 2009, we began work with the profession, the government and the Legal Services Agency to address these. This work is still going on. And we have pointed out the problems which will arise with the wholesale changes to the legal aid system announced this year.”

Mr Temm says lawyers delivering legal aid are understandably concerned about the changes which have been announced and which are still to be announced in the area of family legal aid.

“We accept the government’s need to control public expenditure and its right to make policy. However, we are concerned that there is adequate consultation on the changes and that the ultimate outcome will be the best possible legal aid service for the benefit of the public,” he says.