Law Society appreciates changes in legal aid position

The New Zealand Law Society has welcomed a number of the proposed changes to the Legal Assistance (Sustainability) Bill announced by Justice Minister Judith Collins.

“From the outset the Law Society has expressed its concern at the possible impact some of the Bill’s provisions will have on vulnerable New Zealanders. We are very pleased that the Government appears to have listened to these concerns,” Law Society Legal Services Committee convenor Liz Bulger says.

“A credible and sustainable legal aid system must ensure that access to justice is available to everyone – including the people who cannot afford to pay for legal services. In that respect we’re glad to see that the user charge has been halved to $50 and the provisions relating to interest chargeable on legal aid repayment debt made easier for everyone.”

Ms Bulger says New Zealand’s family lawyers and Youth Advocates will also be relieved that the Government has recognised the strong arguments against extending the legal aid regime to Court-appointed lawyers and Youth Advocates.

“Lawyers are still very concerned at the impact some of the changes proposed for the Family Court will have. However, there now seems to be some recognition that it is essential that lawyers appointed by the Court are independent of any parties to the proceedings,” she says.

“The Law Society also agrees with removing the proposal to tighten the financial means test for less serious criminal cases.”

Another proposed change which the Law Society welcomes is the abandonment of plans to be able to use Order in Council to change proceedings for which civil legal aid is available.

“We strongly believe that as legal aid is paid for by funds voted by Parliament, it is for Parliament and not whoever is the government of the day, to determine which proceedings will be funded by legal aid,” Ms Bulger says.

“We welcome the decision by the Minister of Justice to return to the original legislative requirement on this.”