Cuts To Legal Aid Will Be Disastrous - Law Soc
"Further cuts to legal aid coming into effect on 15 November will be disastrous for domestic violence victims and other users of the Family Court," says Annis Somerville, chair of the New Zealand Law Society Family Law Section.
"It will be even harder for battered women to obtain protection through the legal system. This will also affect children at risk of violence. It is already hard enough for domestic violence victims to seek legal help. Women brought to lawyers by the police or refuges are normally distressed and traumatised. Their children have often been taken out of their home and are unsettled. The work needs to be done urgently and is always given priority.
"Family law cases, and in particular domestic violence work, is very time-consuming and labour intensive. There is always a large number of documents to be prepared and filed in court."
Ms Somerville says that allowances for defended domestic violence cases have decreased by an average of approximately 30%, yet it is the defended cases where a lawyer is essential. A one-hour increase for straightforward undefended domestic violence cases is welcomed but does not make up for this, especially when the allowances for domestic violence cases dealing with other issues, e.g. interim custody, have also been dramatically reduced by an average of approximately 37%.
Ms Somerville said large cuts to remuneration for family court work had already been made in August 1998. The latest cuts may mean that many lawyers will be unable to provide a family law service on legal aid. In the end, the losers will be those men and women needing legal services.
The decision to implement these reductions is particularly concerning in light of the Law Commission's recently released report on Women's Access to Justice, which concluded that women already face major barriers in obtaining legal assistance.
Ms Somerville poses the question, "how can the government justify capping the legal aid budget when it introduces new laws which require a greater use of legal aid?"