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Legal aid increase inadequate

Media release – for immediate use 22 May 2008

Legal aid increase inadequate

“The 10% increase in rates for lawyers working on legal aid cases announced in the Budget is far from adequate and very disappointing, but at least it is a start in addressing a major problem,” the President of the New Zealand Law Society, John Marshall QC, said today (22 May).

“Lawyers have been dropping out of doing legal aid work because there had been no increase in rates for 12 years. People eligible for legal aid are finding it harder and harder to get a lawyer and this increase is not going to be sufficient to change that trend,” he said.

“The New Zealand Law Society has been making a strong case for an increase in rates for at least four years but the Government said it would wait for a review under legislation that came into force on 1 March last year.

“That independent review panel recommended an increase in hourly rates of 15.9%. This was supported by the Legal Services Agency and by Parliament’s Justice and Electoral Committee so it is of real concern that the Government has chosen not to follow that recommendation,” John Marshall said.

“Our members saw that as a bare minimum and they are telling us very firmly that, after 12 years of nothing, this increase just isn’t enough.

“With the CPI having increased around 30% in that time and staff salaries about 60%, law firms have been finding it increasingly uneconomic to do legal aid work. The resulting shortage of legal aid lawyers is affecting the rights of ordinary people to get proper advice, representation and access to the courts.

“The situation is worst in provincial areas, small towns and the poorer parts of our cities. It is particularly bad in family law cases. Too often women who need domestic violence protection orders can’t find a legal aid lawyer to help them.

“There is a serious issue of access to justice for the disadvantaged in our society and we will continue to press the Government to address this,” Mr Marshall said.

“On a positive note, the Minister of Justice has said that she considers this increase a very important first step. We welcome her advice to us that a review of legal aid funding, being undertaken this year to feed into the 2009 Budget round, will include further consideration of the remuneration rates,” he said.

ENDS

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