New Zealand Law Society hopes for improved legal aid system

8 April 2011

New Zealand Law Society hopes for improved legal aid system

The New Zealand Law Society hopes that the passage of legislation to reform the legal aid system this week will be the start of an era where New Zealanders enjoy the benefits of an improved legal aid system.

However, the Law Society says it will be monitoring developments to ensure that legal aid meets the needs of all the parties involved.

Law Society President Jonathan Temm says the Law Society worked constructively with the Minister of Justice, the Ministry of Justice and the Legal Services Agency to help revamp the legal aid legislation.

“We are realistic that initially there will be a settling-down period for the new scheme,” he says. “We will, of course, be closely watching how it impacts on those people receiving legal aid and the lawyers who deliver it.”

Mr Temm says that throughout all the debate over the past few years, there has sometimes been a disproportionate focus on a few lawyers who abused the system at the expense of the whole legal profession.

“New Zealanders can be assured that the overwhelming majority of lawyers who provide legal aid are effective, competent and hardworking. The organisation of legal aid is being changed, but the lawyers delivering it are giving a high quality service with professionalism and integrity.”

Mr Temm says many lawyers currently providing legal aid are very anxious about how the new processes will work for them in the future. The Law Society shares that anxiety but is also keen to see a way of managing legal aid which worked.

“Legal aid is such an important part of the justice system that we must all try to ensure it delivers the best outcomes. The rights of access to justice, to choose your legal representative and to effective legal representation are an integral part of ensuring our society remains one where the rule of law is paramount,” he says

“Government policy has set the rules for who can receive legal aid and almost 1.3 million New Zealanders are now eligible – nearly one-third of the population. We all have a stake in hoping that the changes brought about by the new Legal Services Act work.”