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Unauthorised Operations Of New Legal Agency

Court Of Appeal Tangled In Unauthorised Operations Of New Legal Agency

Thursday 1st Feb 2001 Stephen Franks Media Release -- Justice

The new Legal Services Agency from today takes over deciding on criminals’ legal aid applications for appeals to the Court of Appeal. But the agency will not have proper authority due to Government bungling, ACT Justice Spokesman Stephen Franks revealed today. "It will be embarrassing for the Court of Appeal to be involved in trying to work around the mistakes.

"It is a complex issue, but it seems clear that until the new law is further amended, the new agency can only deal with these applications outside the law – which is surely not a good example.

“The bungle now exposed arises because the Government expected its Criminal Appeals Bill to be rushed through and in place before February 1. In reality it is likely to be at least another month before this bill can be passed into law. Without the bill, and further fixes to it, the new Legal Services Agency has to operate without power to get the Court files and other details they need to decide on legal aid applications. It may seem just funny, but they probably also lack the power to prescribe the application forms required by the Act.

“These problems may not seem serious to the Agency, because it will probably reach a practical interim arrangement for the Courts to give the files informally. But the bungle will further embarrass the Court of Appeal. The Criminal Appeal Amendment proposes to validate retrospectively some 2,000 appeals which the Court Of Appeal handled wrongly. Now a bungle on bungle means it will have to bodge together some kind of further unauthorised procedure to try to let the Agency process fresh applications.

“The Court of Appeal Judges were scathing about Parliament last year, condemning alleged retrospectivity in limiting parole for home invasion criminals, so they must be deeply embarrassed about now needing retrospectivity to fix problems in their own backyard. If the Legal Services Act and the Criminal Appeal Bill had been properly conceived they might have slid through smoothly, without drawing further attention to what looks like hypocrisy, or inconsistency at best, involving retrospective law changes and the Court of Appeal. Instead the changes have drawn strong opposition from the Law Society and others.

“Exposure of the bungling comes at a bad time for the Government. It is trying to persuade people here and overseas that New Zealand’s commitment to the rule of law, and impartial independent and high quality justice will not be compromised by cutting off appeals to the Privy Council. New Zealand lawyers left for London yesterday for Privy Council appeals on just these issues. Sadly they make our Court of Appeal look careless at best about some pretty basic rights – the rights to be heard, and to expect the Courts to respect the law scrupulously and to be consistent about retrospectivity," Stephen Franks said.


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