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King’s legal aid statement misleading

King’s legal aid statement misleading

The Dominion Post reported this morning on a perceived “blowout” of legal aid funding. Sonja Cooper Law, a firm of eight solicitors, was listed as a high-end earner of legal aid. All earners of legal aid are listed on the Legal Services Agency website.

Ms Cooper expressed concern at statements made by the Minister of Justice, Annette King that it was “far too early” to say if any changes would be made to the legal aid system at the conclusion of a proposed review of the system.

“Changes have already been made to the system, quietly and privately. Firms undertaking civil litigation now have to fill out a separate set of forms, with a particular focus on whether the action is being taken against the Crown” Ms Cooper said. “However, lawyers undertaking other kinds of work, such as Waitangi Tribunal grievances, employment grievances and ACC hearings are not subject to the new forms. The Agency appears to have a certain distaste for civil actions against the Government and is avoiding funding them, despite having a legal obligation to do so”.

The Legal Services Agency is also refusing to pay a substantial amount of money owed to a number of firms, despite having approved the work in advance. “It is of concern to me that the Legal Services Agency, and potentially this Government, is unable or unwilling to pay all its bills” Ms Cooper said.

“The Legal Services Agency has targeted rights-based litigation, which is greatly concerning in a democratic State. Now, any action under the Human Rights Act, Bill of Rights Act and similar legislation bringing the Government to account, is clearly not what the Minister of Justice wants to fund in election year” said Ms Cooper.

Few lawyers will now work for civil legal aid, because of the very low rates provided by the Agency. Sonja Cooper Law has some 700 clients, almost all legally aided. She has spent several years encouraging the Government to engage in a meaningful settlement process of the claims against it, which would be a far cheaper option than the provision of legal aid.

“However, it now appears that the Government prefers to settle Treaty grievances, and none other. While those actions remain fully funded, the Government seeks to withdraw the access to justice of many more people mistreated by the Crown – which is a breach of this country’s legislative and international obligations” said Ms Cooper.


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