Bill Will Bring Accountability and Innovation To Legal Aid

  • Tony Ryall
Justice

"Legislation introduced into Parliament today will allow more accountability and innovation to be brought to New Zealand's Legal Aid system," Justice Minister, Tony Ryall, said today.

"The legislation will implement policy announcements made in August this year that Legal Aid spending will be subject to a two-stage plan which will see the granting of legal aid centralised and eligibility reviewed," said the Minister.

Court Registrars and District Subcommittees of mainly lawyers will lose responsibility for granting legal aid. At present there is no direct relationship between the Legal Services Board, the body responsible for controlling the legal aid budget, and the people making decisions on who gets legal aid.

Instead the new Legal Services Agency will take control of the granting of legal aid. The legislation also allows trialling of bulk funding and a public defenders office.

"A sustainable and effective legal aid system will be the result of the Government's plan to bring new accountability and innovation to the provision of legal services. The legislation introduced today, and the decisions yet to come, will ensure that New Zealanders who are in need of legal services continue to have access to them," said Mr Ryall.

"It is essential that we have a legal aid system in which New Zealanders have full confidence.

"Since 1993 the cost to the taxpayer for legal aid has ballooned from $59 million to $94 million this year, and would grow still further without action from the Government.

Step Two : Review of Eligibility Criteria

"The Government has commenced a broad review of the eligibility criteria for legal aid.

"The review includes consideration of ways to help people get justice without necessarily ending up in Court.

"The review is expected to be completed in the first quarter of next year. This timeframe will allow full consultation with legal and community groups.

"The Government remains committed to a network of Community Law Centres. We will be considering their future funding and reviewing the legislative provisions under which Community Law Centres are governed.

"Funding of legal aid will remain constant under the Government's plan. There is no intention to reduce current budget allocations," said Mr Ryall.