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National’s legal ‘assistance’ an oxymoron

Justice Spokesperson

16 August 2011

National’s legal ‘assistance’ an oxymoron

Labour is strongly opposed to the Government’s unconscionable plans to cut access to legal aid to Kiwis, its Justice spokesperson Charles Chauvel says.

“The Legal Assistance (Sustainability) Bill, the government’s attempt to cut spending on legal aid, is a misnomer. It won’t help anyone. It’s a mean, shabby, cost-driven exercise.”

“There are massive flaws, not the least being the $22,000 threshold for crimes punishable by a sentence of imprisonment of less than three years, whereby any application for legal aid will be refused if the applicant earns over that amount, unless special circumstances apply.

“A number of serious offences, including aggravated assault and possession of an offensive weapon, are covered by the less than three year criterion. People accused of any of these offences, rightly or wrongly, will effectively have no right to be assisted with defending the charge,” Charles Chauvel said.

“For civil matters Kiwis will only be eligible for legal aid if a type of proceeding is specified in a schedule to the Act, which the Minister will be able to amend at will. There will be severe limits on people earning over a certain amount - again understood to be $22,000 per annum - to get assistance.

“The possibility of miscarriages of justice in serious cases involving at-risk children, mentally-ill persons, refugees and other vulnerable people is radically increased,” Charles Chauvel said.

“As a further disincentive to people seeking legal assistance, the Bill also introduces a user charge for legal aid applications, and interest on any unpaid charge.

“If that’s not enough parties to family law disputes will be required to contribute to the court-appointed lawyer for the child. This has the potential to cause significant hardship, and where parties simply do not have the means to make such a contribution, there may be real danger that children in vulnerable situations, including relationship breakups, will not be properly represented in the Family Court.

“Access to justice is something every Kiwi should have. There are better ways to deal with the costs of the system than these savage cuts to entitlement,” Charles Chauvel said.


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