Implementation of a new approach to mental health rosters of legal aid providers will begin in the Auckland region from 14 January 2019 and will be rolled out to other areas by the end of 2019.
The Ministry of Justice has released a final decisions document for Mental Health Rosters after a review of the way the rosters are administered and how mental health cases are allocated to providers nationwide.
The ministry and the Ministry of Health have decided that authority and responsibility for ensuring that mental health patients have access to legal representation lies with the District Inspectors. This differs from the original consultation paper where it was proposed that responsibility and authority could lie with Legal Aid Services.
"District Inspectors have a statutory obligation to ensure the rights of patients are being upheld. This obligation includes facilitating patient/lawyer contact, either by assisting patients in contacting their lawyer, or in cases where the patient does not have a lawyer, connecting them with one," the document says.
"Accordingly, it has been decided that overall responsibility for ensuring that mental health patients have access to legal representation and referring providers to patients will lie with them."
It has been agreed that the key principles of the new rostering approach will be:
- Patients who can, may choose their own lawyer; or
- Where a lawyer has acted on behalf of a patient before, they will be referred to that lawyer again; or
- The patient will be referred to a lawyer from a roster.
These principles will be applied nationally, but how the rosters are administered will differ depending on the location and availability of lawyers.
Weekly rosters will be implemented in larger regions (eg, Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch). Rosters will not be implemented in any region where there are only a small number of active approved providers (eg, West Coast, Palmerston North) or where a roster would be unnecessary.