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Battered women forced to represent themselves

Kate Wilkinson MP National Party Associate Justice Spokeswoman

26 July 2006

Battered women forced to represent themselves in court

National Party Associate Justice spokeswoman Kate Wilkinson says the legal aid crisis has become so bad that battered women in Blenheim are being forced to represent themselves in domestic disputes.

“Labour’s tinkering with legal aid is starting to have real consequences. For instance, in Blenheim there are only two lawyers prepared to take on one legal aid case a fortnight.

“It’s so bad that the Blenheim Women’s Refuge and Sexual Assault Resource Centre says that ‘we find it almost impossible to obtain the services of a lawyer for clients who need protection orders as a matter of some urgency and have been put in the position of having to assist clients to prepare their own applications’.

“The refuge also says that due to the dire shortage of lawyers doing legal aid ‘if the respondent wishes to oppose the protection order our client then has to speak on her own behalf in court. Many of our women find that too difficult to contemplate and simply withdraw from the process’.

“These victims report feeling ‘very vulnerable and unsafe’.

“These are not hypothetical cases, or abstract statistics on a page. They are women in real need who are being ignored by a Labour Government that failed to think through all the consequences of its legal aid shake-up.”

Ms Wilkinson says the suggestion that Blenheim domestic violence victims access services outside Blenheim, either in Christchurch or Nelson, is simply unacceptable.

“Labour is failing in its responsibility to provide a legal aid system that provides fair access to justice for some of our most vulnerable citizens,” she says.

ENDS

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