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Legal aid review perpetuates injustice

8 May, 2003
Legal aid review perpetuates injustice

Green MP Nandor Tanczos today criticised the government over its review of legal aid, saying it has failed to address an iniquitous policy that may lead to wrongful convictions.

Justice Minister Phil Goff today defended the practise of refusing legal aid to people facing criminal charges, where they are unlikely to be sentenced to imprisonment if found guilty, in his answer to a question from Nandor in Parliament.

However Nandor, the Green Justice spokesperson, said the policy creates a miscarriage of justice by denying adequate representation for people charged with minor and first-time offences.

"The rationale is that these convictions do not have serious consequences because the person doesn't face jail. The reality is that a first conviction is enormously detrimental. If people are wrongfully convicted because they are not legally represented, they may lose their job or face other significant consequences."

"Without access to good legal advice some people simply plead guilty even thought they committed no crime.

"Once someone has that first conviction there is no going back, and it is more likely that they will be convicted of further offences. All deterrent value of a further criminal conviction is lost"

Nandor challenged Mr Goff's assertion that with a stretched legal aid budget, this was the place to draw the line on access to legal aid.

"Huge amounts of money will be spent on people with a long list of convictions, and more serious charges will inevitably involve more a expensive defence.

"The budgetary implications of extending legal aid to all people facing charges for a first offence would be miniscule in comparison."

Nandor is currently sponsoring the Clean Slate Bill that would see minor convictions wiped after a specified period without reoffending.


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