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MPs briefed on community law worries

Media Release 25 September 2012

MPs briefed on community law worries

More than 30 MPs from across the political spectrum have responded to an invitation from Community Law to attend a briefing this evening on the issues currently confronting community law.

Elizabeth Tennet Chief Executive of Community Law Centres o Aotearoa says the country’s 24 Community Law Centres face an uncertain future as they confront cuts to current number of contracts, competitive tendering for services and the likelihood of reduced face-to-face services for clients.

“We will be telling the MPs that we think there is a real danger in meddling with what has proven to be a very successful public private partnership for the provision of Community Law throughout the country. This is a model that has built up over 30 years which is reliant on lawyers volunteering their time to ensure access to justice in their local communities,” Ms Tennet says.

“The number of MPs attending the briefing is pleasing and we assume it reflects the level of concern and anxiety they are hearing from their constituents about legal services for those in need. The Government has made clear its intentions to change Community Law services although it has not yet announced details of what it proposes to do.”

With some 250,000 people receiving information and advice from Community Law Centres in the last year, there is real concern about how this need will be met. The most frequent areas in which people seek advice relate to family and employment law.

A study released last month, carried out by the New Zealand Institute for Economic Research showed that for less than $11million, that is less than .01% of the Ministry of Justice budget, Community Law delivers over $36million of legal services to New Zealanders who could not otherwise afford legal services. When other legal information services are factored in, the cost benefit ratio is one to five for casework.

Ms Tennet say Community Law Centres are particularly concerned at the potential loss of face-to-face services.

“If 24 contracts are halved, as we understand the Government proposes, it is inevitable many towns will be left without face-to-face services. Lawyers are busy people who donate their time where they live and it wont be feasible for them to travel as a volunteer.

“In addition, we have had a clear message from Maori and Pacific people who are high users of Community Law, that they are most comfortable with face-to-face services and don’t want to get advice from the Internet or an 0800 number, Ms Tennet says.

The briefing is taking place on the eve of the organisation’s first annual hui which takes place over the next three days in Wellington.

The Associate Minister of Justice Chester Borrows will address the hui and the conference opening address will be given by the eminent Maori Judge, Sir Eddie Taihakurei Durie.

On Friday afternoon (1.30pm), Principal Family Court Judge Peter Boshier will speak on family law and Kate Stone, the Co-Chair of JustSpeak, a network of young people interested in justice issues will follow (2.30pm) with a youth perspective on justice issues.

ends

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