New Zealand Law Society - Budget 2024 for the legal profession

Budget 2024 for the legal profession

Budget 2024 has hinted at the likely impact of upcoming changes to the criminal justice system, but there are otherwise few new initiatives in the Justice and Corrections budgets this year.  

Criminal Justice and Budget 2024


Budget 2024 has confirmed funding for the 810-bed expansion of Waikeria Prison, part of a $1.94 billion operating and capital budget for the Department of Corrections which will include more Corrections officers and increased prison capacity. 

The New Zealand Law Society Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa welcomes the signalled ‘comprehensive review’ of rehabilitative and reintegrative programmes for remand prisoners, with Budget 2024 indicating the availability of funding from 2025/26 for provision of these services. The Law Society is supportive of proposed legislative changes to facilitate rehabilitative programmes for remand prisoners. 

However, rehabilitative programmes for sentenced prisoners do not appear to have received any meaningful increase in funding. If the Parole Amendment (Mandatory Completion of Rehabilitative Programmes) Bill is ultimately enacted, the Law Society has serious concerns about whether sufficient resource is available to provide timely and appropriate rehabilitative services. 

Upcoming reform 

The Budget Economic and Fiscal Update (BEFU), which outlines fiscal risks, hints at the likely changes to justice policy settings, including: 

  • Noting the ‘significant’ increase in the prison population since April 2023, recent and planned justice policy changes will likely increase this further. Sentencing law reform is identified specifically as a driver of this. Further funding increases beyond those provided in Budget 2024 are likely to be required. 
  • A budget allocation of $68.7 million for ‘Addressing Serious Youth Offending’ indicates what is described as ‘a new legislative category in the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989’ and the return of a ‘military-style academy pilot for Young Serious Offenders’. The BEFU identifies this may lead to an increase in the number of young people designated as youth offenders, with a corresponding increase in costs associated with the Youth Court and youth justice residences, beyond the budget allocated for 2024/25. 

This reform will be closely monitored by the Law Society. 

Te Ao Mārama 

Funding for the potential expansion of Te Ao Mārama is effectively paused, being held in contingency while implementation continues at current sites and a review of the efficacy of current programmes is undertaken by the Ministry of Justice. Budget documents indicate that if review suggests these programmes have been effective, funding may be made available for expansion. Current work underway as a part of Te Ao Mārama will continue.  

Te Ao Mārama is a judicial initiative in the District Court, focusing on ensuring that all court participants can understand and take part in cases that relate to them. It recognises that timely justice is fundamental and aims to address factors contributing to case backlogs. The work is based on years of research and judicial advice and aims to reduce offending while improving the wellbeing of court participants and their communities. 

The Law Society has supported Te Ao Mārama since its commencement and endorses the aim of improving court processes for all participants, including lawyers and the wider community. 

Law Society Vice President David Campbell says “Timely and accessible justice is essential to a fair and effective justice system. Te Ao Mārama is aimed at ensuring all parties to a court matter can understand and participate in the process, and supports the need for timely justice. Te Ao Mārama promises better outcomes for all individuals interacting with the courts, including victims, whānau, and parties. This work is necessary, and the Law Society encourages continued commitment to this programme of work.” 

The Courts and Budget 2024 

The Law Society has welcomed the announcement that Budget 2024 includes a net increase of $8.329 million for ‘detailed project investigations, the development of business cases and project operating costs relating to capital work to be completed on priority courthouses.’ This is in addition to increased funding for the seismic strengthening of courts across the country, and the Wellington District Court remediation project.  

The Auckland District Court is to be upgraded alongside major seismic strengthening work already underway. As one of our largest and busiest courthouses, the Law Society welcomes this investment, which should go some way to addressing to improving our court infrastructure. Work will begin this year and continue until 2027. The Law Society will work with the Ministry of Justice to provide updates to the profession. 

Overall, the Law Society remains concerned about the long-term prospects of funding to repair, maintain, and upgrade all courthouses requiring such work.  

The condition of courthouses across the country, and the availability of amenities, has been an increasing topic of concern amongst the profession. While the Law Society and local practitioners work with the Ministry of Justice to improve conditions to the extent possible, budgetary constraints have often limited what can be done.  

Briefings to the incoming Minister of Justice and Minister of Courts in December last year confirmed that significant additional investment was required to ensure some of our busiest courts remained safe to use. Media reporting earlier this month revealed that the Ministry of Justice requires $1.8 billion over the next 10 years to do this. 

Policy initiatives driving specific funding increases

Budget 2024 acknowledges the likely impact of criminal justice policy changes on the courts, providing: 

  • Additional funding of $8.682 million has been allocated over 2023/24 – 2027/28 for ‘frontline support’ in implementing the Gangs Legislation Amendment Bill, currently at Select Committee stage.  
  • $4.774 million for the Courts to implement upcoming changes to sentencing law, including the return of the three strikes regime. This is noted as being for ‘frontline services and case management system changes.’ 

Safety and security 

While detailed security expenditure is not outlined, Budget 2024 includes an increase of $2.433 million to manage increased volume and security pressures at the courts, specifically as a result of policy decisions targeting gangs. 

The Law Society welcomes this additional funding, which follows several serious incidents in courthouses, including the attacks on a family court lawyer in Whangārei, and on a High Court defendant in Napier. Further detail on resourcing and arrangements for court security will be sought. 

The Law Society has been working closely with the Ministry of Justice to address safety and security concerns raised by the profession. This has included steps such as improving the visibility into meeting rooms, reviewing the safety inductions provided to court users, and ensuring duress alarms are available. “This has been a productive relationship, and we know the Ministry takes concerns about safety very seriously.” 

Law Society Vice President David Campbell says, “We commend the Ministry for the work it has undertaken to identify the level of security required to ensure the safety of all court users, and are encouraged to see this will be supported with an increased budget.”  

Access to Justice and Budget 2024 

Budget 2024 has provided no further investment in the legal aid system, prompting the Law Society to express its concern at what this means for the ongoing viability and sustainability of the scheme. This follows years of advocacy for the fair remuneration of legal aid lawyers, and improvement of their working conditions.  

While a small increase to hourly rates for legal aid was welcomed in 2022, the Law Society was clear this needed to mark the beginning of a continued trend of investment in the system. That has not eventuated. 

While funding overall has not been decreased, the Law Society is disappointed to see savings from the legal aid budget returned, rather than reinvested. The Budget 2024 Summary of Initiatives notes savings of: 

  • $3.144 million across the next four years, resulting from ‘operational policy adjustments to ensure that decisions to grant legal aid are made consistently in accordance with the current settings of the Legal Services Act 2011’. 
  • $18.868 million across the next four years, results from ‘low demand’ of initiatives such as COVID-19 resourcing.  

While comparatively small amounts, additional funding could have assisted in review and improvement of the administrative and operational requirements of providing legal aid. 

Law Society Vice President David Campbell says “We have been clear about this with successive governments now, and this year we provided further evidence to show that the costs of providing legal aid are increasing. Without fair remuneration, we will see a continuing reduction in the number of lawyers willing to provide legal aid. At a time when the judiciary is working hard to clear case backlogs, insufficient lawyers to assist the public will result in poor outcomes for families, individuals, and victims.” 

Legal aid resource is likely to be further stretched by the introduction of new offences such as those proposed in the Gang Legislation Amendment Bill. 

“Combined with the promise of more frontline police officers, we would not be surprised to see increased proceedings in court. With that comes the need to ensure those accused of an offence receive legal representation. Pressures are being increased from each direction.” 

“We acknowledge that in the current climate, difficult decisions have to be made. However, our legal system performs an essential role in society. It does this in a range of ways, from the resolution of disputes, to enabling people to access their rights and entitlements, delivering justice where wrongdoing is alleged, and even challenging or holding government to account. A history of underinvestment is putting this at risk.” 

Review of the Legal Aid system required 

The Law Society encourages the Government to commit to a full review of the legal aid system, and emphasises that it must address the issue of fair remuneration and overall sustainability of the system, including increasing the number of providers at all levels of seniority. Review of the legal aid system last took place in 2018. 

“The Law Society has a long history of working productively with the Ministry of Justice on a range of issues, including legal aid. A review of the system would provide a real opportunity to address issues we have been raising for some time now, while also stepping back to consider what a sustainable and effective legal aid system looks like in 2024. The Law Society is deeply committed to working with the Ministry on this.” 

Court filing fees 

The Budget indicates that some court filing fees will increase, specifying savings of $43.4 million over four years from increasing court filing, enforcement, and fine collection fees. Further detail is not yet available.