Legal Assistance Amendment Bill passes third reading

  • Judith Collins

The Legal Assistance Amendment Bill, which focuses on improving the legal aid system, passed its third reading today. 

Justice Minister Judith Collins says the Bill strikes the best balance between ensuring that legal aid expenditure is sustainable, and ensuring that people without the means to fund their own legal representation receive any necessary legal advice.

“It’s important to ensure legal representation is available to those who cannot afford it but also that public funds spent on legal aid are done so efficiently and effectively,” Ms Collins says.

The cost of legal aid has grown at a much faster rate than the number of people receiving it. Expenditure increased 55 per cent between 2006/07 and 2009/10 – from $111 million a year to $173 million a year, putting extreme pressure on the legal aid system.

Ms Collins says the Government must assess expenditure on legal aid closely, and prioritise how this money is spent.

“This Bill focuses legal aid resources on those vulnerable people who most need assistance, and ensures that those people who can afford to repay their legal aid debt do so.”

The Bill and associated regulations do this by:     

  • tightening the criteria by which applicants whose income exceeds the prescribed thresholds can receive legal aid for civil proceedings    
  • allowing applications for civil legal aid to be refused if the applicant is in arrears for repayments on previous legal aid grants, unless the interests of justice require otherwise
  • requiring people applying for civil legal aid to pay a $50 user charge    
  • charging interest on legal aid debt at a rate of 8 per cent, after a six-month interest-free window  
  • allowing overdue repayments on legal aid debt to be recovered through notices deducting payments from wages, benefits or bank accounts

“The Government has been extremely careful in seeking savings in this area – particularly for criminal justice where the liberty of defendants is at stake, and for vulnerable people who most need legal assistance,” Ms Collins says.

Further information on the Bill can be found here: