Continuity plans are being put in place to allow legal aid services to keep functioning and to support the essential services that have been agreed by the judiciary, Legal Services Commissioner Brett Dooley says.
Invoices will continue to be paid as quickly as possible, and where possible changes will be made to current processes that will allow Legal Aid Providers to continue to work safely and remotely when neededm, Mr Dooley says.
"However, we ask you to understand that usual service-levels may not always be possible in the current environment, as we are already functioning at reduced capacity."
Mr Dooley says that where possible Legal Services will be making changes to its current processes that will allow Legal Aid Providers to continue to work safely and remotely when needed.
"We have also made some decisions to re-prioritise our work programme that will hopefully alleviate any additional stress on you and enable you to focus on your own whanau and your business."
These changes include:
Signing legal aid forms: Legal Aid will accept any applications that haven’t been signed by a provider's client. Providers are asked to sign legal aid forms on their behalf and state the reason on the form for not being able to obtain the signature.
PDS reduction: As the priority services for the Courts going forward will now be to deal with custody matters, that may have a financial impact for many legal aid lawyers with the cancellation of jury trials and the de-prioritisation of other assignments. "For this reason, we are working closely with the Public Defence Service and have agreed to reduce the number of future assignments assigned to them and similarly with duty lawyer rosters, to try and minimise the financial impact for some of you," Mr Dooley says.
Availability: "To assist us to speed up our processes for opposed bail and reassignments for the next few weeks, we would appreciate it if you could email your respective legal aid office on a Monday to advise what days you are available for that immediate week."
Approvals: All current legal aid provider contracts and any approvals due to expire within this time will be extended until June 2021.
"Due to our re-prioritisation of processes and resources, some of the current approvals processes will be affected. Those who have already submitted lead applications will be contacted directly to discuss the expected assessment timeframe. Providers who are yet to submit applications for lead approval are encouraged to delay submission until further notice. Providers applying for supervised approval can continue to do so normally."
Those providers who required urgent approval to act in a specific case can still apply for a limited approval. Information on how to do this is available on the Ministry of Justice website.
Audits: Legal Aid Services says it recognises that its providers in the community are themselves responding to these unprecedented events we are in and that it would be inappropriate to continue with the current audit programme at this time. In making this decision the ministry is also aware of the most recent advice concerning domestic travel and physical distancing practices. For those reasons, all provider audits will be paused until further notice.
Complaints: The ministry is also placing a pause on all activity surrounding complaint investigations that are currently underway and no further action is required by those providers affected by this notice.