Select committee recommends review of legal aid regulation

Parliament's Regulations Review Committee has recommended that the Government review the lack of provision in the Legal Services Act 2011 for merits review by a provider of a decision to decline out-of-time payment following a grant of legal aid.

In its report Complaint regarding the Legal Services Regulations 2011 (SR 2011/144), the committee outlines its inquiry into a complaint from Wellington law firm Cooper Legal about the regulations. Parliament's Standing Orders allow a person or organisation aggrieved at the operation of a regulation to make a complaint to the Committee.

The regulations came into force on 1 July 2011. Regulation 19 set a new timeframe of 3 months after the day on which the services were provided to make a claim for payment of legal aid services.

The complainant law firm gave evidence that the new timeframe had imposed a heavy administrative burden by requiring submission of a separate claim for each one of its legally aided clients every time any work was done on his or her case. A further effect of the requirement to make a claim within 3 months was that there was a large backlog of such claims before the Ministry of Justice. This resulted in long delays in processing claims, which made it difficult for the complainant to manage its business effectively.

The committee considered that a reasonable timeframe was not inconsistent with the purpose of the Legal Services Act - to deliver legal aid services in the most effective and efficient manner. However, the current three month timeframe was not reasonable.