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New Era For Legal Aid

A major change in the administration of legal aid with the Legal Services Act coming into effect from today.

"The Act will ensure the public gets the best possible return from the money spent on legal aid," said Justice Minister Phil Goff.

The Act overhauls the administration of legal aid with the establishment of the new Legal Services Agency, which replaces the Legal Services Board.

Mr Goff said "The new system is designed to deliver greater efficiency and accountability in the provision of legal services. It aims to give the taxpayer and legal aid recipients a better deal for the $100 million we spend on legal aid every year.

"The previous system relied heavily on volunteers. Despite valuable work contributed by the vast majority of volunteers involved, the system suffered from inefficiencies, inconsistencies and occasional rorts."

Problems included failures of subcommittee meetings to be well enough attended to have a statutory quorum and backlogs in processing applications.

"For example, delays reached 11 weeks in Auckland last year representing a backlog of 2000 files, or $3 million in unpaid accounts."

The Minister said the move to the Legal Services Agency structure was not a cost-cutting measure but a better way of making use of the money being spent.

"The level of expenditure requires that we ensure that we get value for the money we are spending. Savings made by a more efficient administration also allows us to consider extending legal aid eligibility to other applicants. This being considered in a review to be completed this year," Mr Goff said.

The Agency will utilise local knowledge through the establishment of a network or regional offices. This will complement the advice available from the Public Advisory Committee.

"This is a significant improvement on the design of the Agency as proposed by the previous government and it will help ensure that it is responsive to local needs," said the Minister.


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