“Ensuring duty lawyers receive adequate remuneration for the work that they do is critical to valuing the role duty lawyers and the duty lawyer scheme plays within our criminal justice system,” Law Society President Frazer Barton says.
The Law Society has long advocated for a review of the duty lawyer remuneration rate following a nearly 25-year period with no significant increase. Like legal aid providers, duty lawyers are critical to ensuring access to justice in Aotearoa New Zealand. They provide timely and necessary legal advice to unrepresented defendants and are key to the efficient operation of the District Court and improving access to justice.
In April 2023, Frazer Barton wrote to the Minister of Justice conveying the Law Society’s ‘grave concern’ that duty lawyer work had become unsustainable for lawyers, risking serious impacts on defendants, victims, and the criminal justice system as a whole.
“Inadequate remuneration coupled with growing shortages among duty lawyers has led to significant difficulties in attracting and retaining providers. We are hopeful that this increase in remuneration goes some way to addressing these concerns by recognising the importance of this role," Frazer Barton said.
Legal Aid Services Commissioner Tracey Baguley (the Commissioner) said that her hope is that this increase “will help to encourage lawyers to continue providing the duty lawyer service, helping to ensure unrepresented defendants can continue to access legal assistance in this way.”
The Commissioner also confirmed a broad-scope review of the duty lawyer scheme will take place between August 2023 and February 2024. The Commissioner notes the “objective of the review will be to ensure the duty lawyer service is fit for purpose in meeting the needs of unrepresented defendants in the district court.” The review will be led by a professional services firm and supported by an advisory group of stakeholders of the duty lawyer service.
Frazer Barton is committed to continuing to advocate for duty lawyers and legal aid providers as a whole.
“A review of the duty lawyer scheme is long overdue and the Law Society looks forward to playing a pivotal role in the review. We also have work underway to understand the current costs of practice for lawyers in Aotearoa New Zealand. Information from this project will assist us in continuing our evidence-based advocacy for the benefit of all legal aid providers and the wider profession,” he said.