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A Much-needed Win For “Ahui Ki Te Ture, Access To Justice” The 2020 Budget Delivers

The New Zealand Bar Association is delighted that, in amongst the unique aspects of this 2020 Budget, there is a much smaller line item that is still a significant milestone for access to justice. The Government has, for the first time, delivered funding allocated for the establishment of a Pro Bono Clearing House. Community Law Centres o Aotearoa will receive $7.72m over four years to help meet growing demand for services and enable management of cases.

This funding will be targeted to provide an improved case management system and a new clearinghouse model. The case management initiative will ensure lawyers spend more time with vulnerable people who need their help. The pro-bono clearinghouse will increase access to free legal assistance and support people who cannot afford a lawyer by matching them with lawyers who are offering their services for free.

In September 2018, NZBA issued its Report “Ahui ki te Ture, Access to Justice”. One of the goals of the report was to support Community Law in setting up a Pro Bono Clearing House model and funding. This funding is now in place for the first time in New Zealand. We now can follow the lead of other Commonwealth countries, who already have similar schemes operating.

There is still much work to be done in establishing the clearing house model and implementing it across New Zealand. The need for this is likely to be even greater and more urgent in the next 12 months, given the impact of COVID-19 on employment, housing, debt, family, immigration, mental health and a range of other social issues. These matters will all inevitably overlap with legal issues and many will not be able to afford legal advice or will struggle to meet legal aid criteria.

“While we are very pleased to see this development, we caution that this must not be seen as a substitute for a fully funded Legal Aid System. The income thresholds to qualify for legal aid in our current system are unrealistic, and need urgent attention, “ says NZBA Access to Justice Chair, Maria Dew QC.

We look forward to barristers being able to offer their pro bono time much more effectively, through the Pro Bono Clearing house model, in the coming months. Working with the Law Society, we have already provided Community Law with a list of those willing to help.

We congratulate Community Law in achieving this very significant goal.

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