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Top Legal Aid Barrister Complains On LSA Funding

Top Legal Aid Barrister Complains About LSA Funding Issues

LawFuel - The Law Jobs and News Wire

Auckland barrister Charl Hirschfeld, the second highest-paid legal aid barrister in New Zealand, is currently embroiled in a row with the Legal Services Agency over lack of funding for a terror case.

Hirschfeld's substantial Maori law practice saw him earn over $2.8 million in legal aid payments in the 18 months until the end of December 2007, according to figures obtained by LawFuel.co.nz. The highest-earning barrister is Wellington's Sonja Cooper, who was paid marginally more than Hirschfeld's $2.8 million for her psychiatric claims clients.

The legal aid payments, which include payments to other fee earners in the barristers' chambers and also include disbursements and expert witness fees, are the subject of intense discussion in legal quarters as the Government offer to increase fee levels has been rejected.

The current issue with Hirschfeld involves the defence of clients facing firearms charges following the Police 'terror raids' last October. Hirschfeld says he has 40,000 pages of eivdnence and 100 DVDs to review although has no funding from the Legal Services Agency.

His claims echo those of David Bain defender, Michael Reed QC, who has requested additional funding to mount an effective defence to the mountain of evidence that requires close consideration.

The legal aid debacle has existed for some years, with fees not having been altered for over 10 years.

Nevertheless, some question the wisdom of not only the cost of running the legal aid scheme, with an overhead running at close to $20 million a year, but also the allocation of substantial funding for claims that may or may not be worthwhile pursuing. This can leave the current predicament, where funds that are needed for "deserved" causes are left with nothing, say critics.

The United Kingdom legal aid scheme is in crisis, with scores of top-level terror trials as well as the most complex murder and rape cases at risk of being run by second-rank lawyers after more than 2,000 Queen's Counsel and junior barristers boycotted new pay rates.

In what is effectively a stand-off over the proposed cuts in fees, only 130 of 2,300 barristers in England and Wales who had been selected to handle the 100 most complex trials a year have signed the contracts, The Times reports.

Meanwhile, England's most highest-paid legal aid criminal barrister for the second year running is Balbir Singh, head of Birmingham chambers, who was paid £957,000 out of the public purse in 2006-07, following the £1.1 million he received in the previous 12 months.

In the last three years, Mr Singh, a former magistrates' clerk, has been paid more than £2.8 million in legal aid.

He was the only barrister on the Ministry of Justice's list of highest earners for criminal defence work who has not been appointed Queen's Counsel, the elite rank of senior barristers.

Whatever the payments, however the amounts are made and directed, the legal aid crisis is not going away any time soon.


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