Women's access to the law
A comprehensive report on the problems women have accessing the law should be carefully examined when the next Parliament considers proposed changes to Legal Aid, Labour women's affairs spokesperson Dianne Yates said today.
"I suggested in Parliament today that the Law Commission's report containing four years' research on Women's Access to Legal Service by Joanne Morris OBE should be accepted as a submission on the new Legal Services Bill. This report gives an extensive overview of women's experiences of the law in New Zealand and makes precise recommendations for improvements. These should be considered when the bill is referred to the Justice and Law Reform Select Committee.
"The Domestic Violence Act 1995 is a major source of increased demand for legal aid. The New Zealand Law Society Family Law Section chairwoman Annis Somerville has said that changes proposed in the Legal Services bill would be disastrous for domestic violence victims and other users of the Family Court as cuts had already been made in August of 1998. The changes will also disadvantage women lawyers - many of whom practice in the Family Court area - and who already receive lower pay rates on average.
"Given that 30% of the Family Court legal aid cases involve custody and access to children, it is even more important that we ensure that any changes in administration should be driven by considerations of equity of access to the law and not cost alone", said Dianne Yates.
"The Law Commission's report gives detail on the variety of models used to ensure access to the law in other western democracies and it emphasises access to legal advice, the provision of community law centres evenly throughout the country, more legal information and education. This report must inform the incoming select committee.
"I am concerned that the motivation of the Government's bill is purely about cost cutting rather than equity of access", said Dianne Yates. "We must ensure that justice is the prime aim of any legal aid service and that the needs of women and children are not considered 'frivolous' by judges or parliamentarians."