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Legal Aid overhaul

Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Justice
Media Statement
4 October 2000

Legal Aid overhaul

Justice Minister Phil Goff today signalled the Government's determination to pass the Legal Services Bill which he said will ensure that the public gets the best return possible from the money spent on legal aid.

"Access to justice is a fundamental principle underlying our justice system. No New Zealander should be denied legal representation solely because of their inability to pay, " Mr Goff said as the Bill came back to the House after the Select Committee stage.

"At $100 million annually, legal aid doesn't come cheap and it increased in cost alarmingly between 1994 and 1999. It is important, therefore, that legal aid services are delivered consistently and efficiently.

"The present system, which relies primarily on volunteers, is no longer adequate. Despite the valuable work contributed by the vast majority of the volunteers involved, the system has suffered from inconsistent decision-making, poor expenditure control and serious processing backlogs.

"The volunteers will be replaced by a professional agency, the Legal Services Agency.

"The Labour Alliance Government has made a significant change to the structure of the new Legal Services Agency proposed by the previous government. It will now draw on the major strength of the subcommittee system - that is, local knowledge - through the establishment of a network of regional offices.

"The Select Committee has also recommended that the Agency should be able to establish local consultative groups to advise on the general delivery of legal aid.

"This extra source of advice complements that offered by the Public Advisory Committee and together they will ensure that the Agency will be responsive to local needs.

"I have now appointed an establishment Board for the new Legal Services Agency. This board has held an initial planning workshop and has recommended that the changes to legal services administration take effect on 1 February 2001. The Bill's passage will allow this to occur.

"Reform in legal aid will progress in two legislative stages. This Bill reforms administration of legal aid. A separate exercise next year will address questions relating to legal aid eligibility criteria," Mr Goff concluded.

Details of new LSA Board Members attached.

New LSA Board members: Following extensive consultations with Ministerial colleagues as proposed by the Bill, and a number of other parties, including the New Zealand Law Society and the Coalition of Community Law Centres, I have identified the six members who will form the establishment Board of the Legal Services Agency. They are:
 Stephen O'Driscoll (Chairperson) - a Dunedin lawyer and current Presiding Member of the Legal Services Board;
 Margaret Boyd-Bell - an Auckland accountant, current member of the Legal Services Board and acting Presiding Member of the Auckland District Legal Services Committee;
 Harete Hipango - a Wanganui lawyer with the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services;
 Joanne Morris - a Wellington lawyer, member of the Waitangi Tribunal and former Law Commisisoner who authored the 1999 study on "Women's Access to Legal Services";
 Bob Perry - a Christchurch lawyer, current member of the Legal Services Board, and Presiding Member of the Canterbury District Legal Services Committee;
 Pauline Winter - the Auckland-based Chief Executive Officer of Workbridge which provides specialist job placement for employers and for people with all types of disability._

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