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Minister fiddles as legal aid slips into crisis

Chris Finlayson MP
National Party Shadow Attorney-General
&
Kate Wilkinson MP
National Party Associate Justice Spokeswoman

14 June 2006

Minister fiddles as legal aid slips into crisis

The National Party says Labour is allowing the legal aid system to slip further into crisis while it conducts a survey of ‘unmet legal needs’.

“How many people will escape justice, or be wrongly convicted because of Labour’s nonsensical approach to legal aid? Poorer Kiwis have just as much right to the best legal representation as those who can afford to pay top dollar for top lawyers,” says National’s Shadow Attorney-General Chris Finlayson.

The Law Society has confirmed that many law firms are withdrawing from the legal aid scheme because of Labour-initiated changes that make it uneconomic.

“This is about fair representation for those who would otherwise not be able to afford the best legal advice,” Mr Finlayson says.

Yesterday, Justice Minister Mark Burton launched a survey on legal aid, with results expected at the end of the year.

“When Rome is burning around you it’s time to act. Instead, we’ve got a Minister who wants to put his head in the sand and pretend there aren’t major problems in his portfolio,” says National’s Associate Justice spokeswoman, Kate Wilkinson.

“Perversely, what Labour is promoting here is a legal system that allows the rich to get the best advice available, while the poor have to settle for what they’re given.

“At the same time that Labour is forcing lawyers out of the legal aid game, it has opened up the criteria so more people are eligible. Put simply - fewer lawyers - more clients.

“How many people will be denied effective counsel while the Minister fiddles with his survey? Isn’t one preventable miscarriage of justice one too many?” asks Ms Wilkinson.

ENDS

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