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Access to justice in Aotearoa focus of legal gathering

Access to justice in Aotearoa focus of legal gathering

Justice issues affecting Māori, vulnerable children, liquor licensing and refugees will be topics under the spotlight at Community Law’s annual hui in Christchurch next week.

Community Law Centre O Aotearoa Chief Executive Elizabeth Tennet says over 100 representatives from New Zealand’s 24 Community Law Centres will come together at Rehua Marae to share information and insights about access to justice in New Zealand.

“As an organisation that supports over 250,000 New Zealanders each year and touches up to 20 percent of New Zealand households – including the most vulnerable members of society – we have a pretty broad overview of what’s working and what’s not.”

How Community Law can deliver legal services that meet the needs of Māori and contribute to law change that works against social disadvantage will be the focus for Ngā Kaiāwhina Māori Hapori o te Ture, Community Law’s Māori Caucus.

“The issues our Māori clients bring to us reflect that Māori communities are unfairly overrepresented in our prisons, criminal system, as clients of Child, Youth and Family and Housing New Zealand, along with other legal issues relating to family, employment, tenancy and consumer laws.”

Ms Tennet says Community Law has taken considerable strides in 2015 to work more effectively with Māori communities. This has included constituting a new bi-cultural board structure with a Māori co-Chair – Bernadette Arapere – and establishing a Kaitakawaenga/National Māori Coordinator position.

With family law the top area in which Community Law works, domestic violence and the Vulnerable Children Act will also be on the table, as well as liquor licensing.

“Community Law is all too often the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. We want to stop societal problems from escalating into legal problems by educating young people on their rights and responsibilities, assisting communities that are trying to reduce alcohol abuse and working with families to reduce violence,” says Ms Tennet.

“Legal advice given by Community Law to people under stress reduces criminality and pressure on the court system. We are also strong advocates of the Community and Iwi Justice Panel model, which has been successfully piloted in Christchurch and in Manukau, Tairawhiti and Waiwhetu.”

Working with refugees will also be discussed, with Community Law running about 60 refugee and migrant clinics in the last month as well as providing one-on-one legal advice and assistance on immigration and refugee matters. Ms Tennet says Community Law expected to see an increase in demand for these services over the next two years, as New Zealand welcomed an additional 600 Syrian refugees alongside its existing intake.

“Access to justice is an important tenet for New Zealand society to maintain harmony, fairness and integration of all its citizens into the values of our society. Community Law will be doing all we can to extend our services to these new New Zealanders if they need us.”

ENDS

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