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Legal aid provisions

Labour
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"The new procedures for granting legal aid are to be welcomed but should have been introduced years ago," Labour justice spokesperson Phil Goff said today.

"The Government has moved at glacial pace on the issue as recommendations for change were made to it by the Legal Services Board and the Justice Select Committee three years ago.

"A commitment to ensuring all New Zealanders have access to justice regardless of wealth or income is fundamental to our system of justice. However transparent procedures for granting legal aid and a proper system of accountability is critical if the legal aid is to be granted to the right people and protected against rip-offs from some unscrupulous lawyers.

"Part of the cause of the rapid growth in legal aid is new legislation by Government including the Domestic Violence Act. But recent revelations of very high legal aid payments to some lawyers and some beneficiaries who could clearly afford to pay for their own legal advice have highlighted the need for better procedures.

"The ability of the Legal Services Board to make decisions across the board will ensure a consistent and professional approach to granting legal aid. Establishing an appeal provision provides a safeguard for applicants who might be unfairly declined.

"A Public Defenders Office is an idea which merits a trial. As its lawyers will not be paid by the hour, there is no incentive to drag cases out for higher remuneration. The reputation of the office will depend on the employment of efficient and effective legal staff. It must not be seen as providing second class legal advice.

"Promoting alternatives to expensive litigation such as mediation is also sensible. I welcome the input of the Legal Services Board into these decisions.

"The legislation will be carefully considered by the select committee and passed by the incoming Labour Government next year," Mr Goff said.

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