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Legal aid cuts challenged in High Court

Justice Spokesperson

27 February 2012 MEDIA STATEMENT

Legal aid cuts challenged in High Court

Moves by the Criminal Bar Association to overturn an integral part of National's legal aid cuts show that there is growing dissent in the sector, says Labour's Justice spokesperson Charles Chauvel.

"The Criminal Bar Association is asking the High Court to strike down National's attempt to bring in a low fixed-fee regime for criminal legal aid cases, and for an injunction to stop its introduction in the meantime.

"It argues that the regime lacked proper consultation, and ignores the requirement in the Legal Services Act that high-quality legal assistance should be available in New Zealand.

"Legal assistance for those who can't afford their own Court defence appears to be a service National believes we can do without," Charles Chauvel said.

"Today's injunction application comes as no surprise. Labour has repeatedly argued that slashing costs is not the only solution to improve the legal aid system.

"We all understand that times are tough. But the consequences of cuts must be measured and mitigated," Charles Chauvel said.

"The Government should be setting up a negotiated network of lower-cost, quality providers across the country. These would include public defenders, community law centres, and lawyers in private practice contracted to the state at much cheaper rates than they usually charge, as is the case now.

"If this doesn't happen, New Zealanders who get caught up in litigation, but who can't afford to pay for legal advice, will suffer.

"As the Law Society told the Justice and Electoral Select Committee earlier this month, it will be vulnerable children in Family Court proceedings who may miss out on representation.

"It is a shame that this matter has had to go to court. But litigation is inevitable if the Government will not listen. And on this issue, it has been deaf," Charles Chauvel said.


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