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Children at risk as legal aid cuts bite

Charles Chauvel
Shadow Attorney General

24 January 2012

Children at risk as legal aid cuts bite

Vulnerable Kiwi children caught up in custody disputes will be the real losers from National's latest round of legal aid cuts, Labour’s Shadow Attorney General Charles Chauvel says.

Charles Chauvel was commenting on news that the number of family lawyers offering their services to legal aid clients has fallen by almost half in seven months.

Figures from the Ministry of Justice show 2095 lawyers were listed as providers of family legal aid in June last year. Now there are 1161. The number of lawyers willing to do civil and mental health work on legal aid has also dropped.

"As we predicted last year, lawyers are giving up legal aid work because it is uneconomic, in light of cuts to legal aid already made, and of those yet to come under legislation introduced late last year by National,” Charles Chauvel said.

"Family law is one of the areas where people simply must have good advice and representation, irrespective of the size of their bank accounts.

“Reaching appropriate on-going arrangements that are in the best interests of any children involved is a basic function of our legal system. The children of parents involved in relationship breakdowns will suffer if one or both of their parents cannot access good advice and legal assistance.

"As Labour said last year, there should be a one year moratorium placed on National's cuts to legal aid and community legal services. During the moratorium, the Ministry of Justice should be required to negotiate a quality and cost-effective nationwide network of publicly-funded providers of legal services. This would likely be a mix of private lawyers, community law centres, CABs and public defence service providers.

“The network would be tasked with ensuring access to the courts for those who can least afford it at the best available cost to the taxpayer.

"This is what should have been done by National two years ago. Instead, it simply cut legal aid entitlements, and it has more cuts planned.

“Affordability is important. But so is access to justice. New Zealand should not be a place where only the wealthy can afford to use the courts,” Charles Chauvel said.

ENDS

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