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Power: Papakura-Pukekohe Public Defence Service opening

Simon Power

30 November, 2010

Speech to open Papakura-Pukekohe Public Defence Service

Good afternoon.

I’d like to acknowledge the members of the judiciary and the legal profession for being here today for the official opening of the Papakura - Pukekohe Public Defence Service.

The opening of this branch is significant because it marks the completion of the PDS rollout to the Auckland region.

It’s a journey which began back in 2004 when the idea of using an in-house, high-quality legal aid service, through the use of salaried staff rather than contracted lawyers, was trialled in the Auckland and Manukau courts.

That trial was clearly a success – leading to the opening of the Waitakere PDS in December 2009, and the North Shore branch in June this year.

Across Auckland, the PDS now employs 48 lawyers and 15 administration staff.

To date it’s been a fertile training ground for 20 new graduates starting out as criminal defence lawyers.

The quality of training available to these lawyers is something that has been enthusiastically noted by the judges, court staff, and prosecutors who have come into contact with the PDS.

The PDS also encourages competition and offers a benchmark for the cost of legal representation.

Its ability to provide a high-quality service was illustrated in a value-for-money review carried out by consulting firm Martin Jenkins in March 2009.

The review showed PDS clients were receiving at least as good a level of legal representation as they would from the private bar.

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It also found that the case flow of the PDS has led to a two thirds reduction in the number of jury trials, as well as savings in court time and costs.

These include an annualised estimate of $400,000 ‘saved’ in cost of jury trials for cases commenced in the period between July and December 2006.

The review ended by lending support to roll out the PDS to other locations.

I’m pleased to announce that the PDS is expected to be up and running in the Wellington, Lower Hutt, and Porirua courts early next year, and in Hamilton and Christchurch by the middle of next year.

Once fully operational, the PDS will take about a third of criminal cases in those areas – that’s about 11,000 cases.

The Government sees the PDS as playing an increasingly important role in the new legal aid system we are developing, following Dame Margaret Bazley’s report in November 2009.

Dame Margaret agreed that the PDS should be rolled out the major centres and to courts where there are particular problems with quality.

The Legal Services Bill, which includes new competency requirements for legal aid lawyers and will make it easier to trial initiatives like the PDS in future, is due to be reported back from the Justice and Electoral Select Committee before Christmas.

The bill is a foundation for a high-quality legal aid service for those who use it and the taxpayers who pay for it.

As I said earlier in the year, the legal aid system is also facing enormous cost pressures.

Expenditure on legal aid rose by $51 million in the past three years.

Last year, legal aid cost $156 million and by 2011/12 legal aid is expected to be $78 million over budget.

Before Christmas I will be reporting to Cabinet on a package of options aimed at bringing the legal aid growth curve back under control, while ensuring we maintain access to justice for those who need it.

I see the PDS as playing a vital role in that reform package.

The PDS also complements other initiatives we have under way to improve the criminal justice system, including the victims-of-crime initiatives, the rollout of audio-visual links between courts and prisons, and the Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill which includes the biggest changes to criminal procedure in decades.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s an honour to be here today to open this PDS branch and I’m looking forward to opening more in the near future.

Thank you.


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