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Goff launches Public Defence Service

21 May 2004

Goff launches Public Defence Service

Justice Minister Phil Goff today launched the Public Defence Service, which sees salaried lawyers working alongside private lawyers to provide duty solicitor and criminal legal aid services in the Auckland and Manukau Courts.

"The opening of the Public Defence Service marks a new era in the delivery of legal aid, which is designed to ensure that all people in court have access to representation and the process of justice works fairly," Mr Goff said.

"The Public Defence Service has its origins in Labour’s election manifesto undertaking in 1999 and in the Legal Services Act 2000. Although it is a new concept in New Zealand, such services already operate in Canada, Australia, England, Wales and parts of the United States.

"The Service will provide legal aid in the Auckland and Manukau Courts, building up a team of 18 lawyers that will take up to a third of the legal aid caseload at the two Courts.

"The government, and that of course means the New Zealand taxpayer, invests $82 million a year in legal aid, of which $35 million is for criminal legal aid.

"It is an important investment because justice means people must have access to representation. It is equally important for that representation to be provided efficiently and effectively, to get the best value from the investment.

"The aims of the Service are: To provide high quality, consistent, independent value-for-money services. To improve system flexibility and to test new and innovative approaches. To create a competitive environment where the performance of private providers and the public defence office can be measured against each other, where both strive for quality and efficient services and where payment by the hour does not create the incentive to drag cases out.

"The Service has been resisted in some quarters, but it is not the government’s role to put vested interests ahead of the common good. Nor is it our intention to compete unfairly or to impose new ways of doing things if they do not provide advantages over the status quo.

"The Public Defence Service will initially operate for five years, during which time it will be formally evaluated by an advisory group made up of the Law Society, Criminal Bar Association, relevant government departments, the Legal Services Agency and community groups.

"That evaluation will clearly demonstrate what the Service has been able to achieve. It will stand on its merits, but I have every confidence that it will measure up to scrutiny and will advance the interests of those who use it, the justice system and the New Zealand taxpayer," Mr Goff said.


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