In February 2020, the Law Society’s Family Law Section wrote to the Minister of Justice seeking an urgent review of court appointed remuneration rates (which had remained unchanged for nearly 25 years) and consideration of a formal mechanism to regularly review and negotiate all court appointed counsel remuneration rates in the Family Court.
Later that year, the Minister announced a 10% increase over four years only for lawyer for child rates, creating a divergence across all court-appointed counsel remuneration rates in the Family Court.
Since then, the Family Law Section has continued to strongly advocate for a formal mechanism to regularly review and negotiate all court-appointed counsel remuneration rates. Following numerous discussions with the Ministry of Justice, it was agreed in December 2022 that a formal review would be conducted to establish a pathway forward.
The Law Society also noted in its submission on the Oranga Tamariki Amendment Bill in February 2022, that a regular review of Family Court appointed counsel, would likely impact the rates for youth advocates in the Youth Court. Although the youth advocate remuneration rate is prescribed in secondary legislation (unlike the rate for lawyer for child), it similarly has not seen an increase in nearly 20 years and also does not have any formal mechanism for regular reviews. The Law Society recently wrote to the Ministry asking that youth advocates be included in the formal review.
A working group has now been set up which includes representatives from the Ministry of Justice, the Family Law Section, and the Law Society’s Youth Justice Committee. The primary purpose of the working group is to establish a permanent formal mechanism that allows for the regular review of remuneration for court-appointed counsel in the Family and Youth Courts. The issue of sustainability of practice for court-appointed work is affecting the availability of counsel across the profession and in particular, the availability of senior counsel. A machinery for regular review is important to ensure that all court appointed counsel are paid fairly for the important work they do that is essential to access to justice and the administration of justice.
The Ministry of Justice has welcomed the opportunity to work with us and has emphasised that all negotiations and agreements in respect of remuneration are subject to Cabinet approval.
While the working group is still in its infancy, with draft Terms of Reference in the process of being finalised, it will have oversight of the development of any solutions that fall within its scope. We look forward to being involved in this important piece of work.