Community Law Centres Aotearoa, the Bar Association and the Law Society are welcoming a Budget funding boost that will create a clearing house for pro bono services.
The centres will receive $7.7 million over four years to help meet growing demand for services and enable management of cases.
The increase will fund three initiatives:
- a new case management system across the 24 community law centres,
- the establishment of a Pro Bono Clearing House to maximise the use of volunteer legal expertise nationwide and;
- better wages so that community law can recruit and retain experienced staff.
“It may be a small amount of money in a government budget which features such substantial expenditure, but it will make a big difference for those in need of support,” says Community Law Centres Aotearoa (CLC) chief executive Sue Moroney.
“All of these initiatives will improve Community Law’s ability to improve access to justice for those who would otherwise be unable to afford legal support.
“The New Zealand Institute for Economic Research (NZIER) found that for every dollar invested in Community Law services, the community gets $3-$5 worth of value, so it’s a wise investment from Government. There is much potential for Community Law to do even more to address unmet legal needs with additional resources in the future.”
Twenty-four Community Law Centres work out of over 140 locations across the country with 200 staff, and the assistance of over 1,200 volunteer lawyers.
'Increase access to free legal assistance'
The New Zealand Bar Association (NZBA) says it is delighted that, “in among the unique aspects of this 2020 Budget, there is a much smaller line item that is a significant milestone for access to justice.”
“The pro-bono clearinghouse will increase access to free legal assistance and support people who cannot afford a lawyer by matching them with lawyers who are offering their services for free,” the Bar Association says in a statement.
In September 2018, NZBA issued its report Ahui ki te Ture, Access to Justice. One of the goals of the report was to support Community Law in setting up a Pro Bono Clearing House model and funding.
“We now can follow the lead of other Commonwealth countries, who already have similar schemes operating,” the NZBA says.
“There is still much work to be done in establishing the clearing house model and implementing it across New Zealand. The need for this is likely to be even greater and more urgent in the next 12 months, given the impact of COVID-19 on employment, housing, debt, family, immigration, mental health and a range of other social issues.
“These matters will all inevitably overlap with legal issues and many will not be able to afford legal advice or will struggle to meet legal aid criteria.
“While we are very pleased to see this development, we caution that this must not be seen as a substitute for a fully-funded Legal Aid System.”
The New Zealand Law Society | Te Kahui Ture o Aotearoa similarly welcomes the additional funding for Community Law Centres to establish a pro-bono clearing house.
“This initiative is most certainly a positive step in addressing the access to justice gap. The Law Society has been actively involved in supporting this initiative and we look forward to working with the Bar Association and the Community Law Centre to get the clearing house up and running”, Law Society President Tiana Epati says.”
In addition, the Budget has set aside $163.5 million over the next four years on upgrading court buildings to improve the experience of attending court, including for victims, participants and employees. It will enable investment in eight of the country's top ten busiest court locations, which require urgent attention to address critical health and safety issues and seismic strengthening work.