Authors of a New Zealand Bar Association Access to Justice Report are calling on greater involvement from the country’s barristers combined with more support for Legal Aid to enable a fairer system of legal representation.
The Report notes that there has been an increase in the number of people who can’t afford lawyers, and those representing themselves who are potentially disadvantaged because of their lack of knowledge.
The Access to Justice Report identifies four key areas in which the NZBA calls for change and makes recommendations:
- Improvements to the legal aid system
- Ways in which free or subsidised legal services could be provided
- Best use of court time
- And a review of the way lawyers charge for their services
The Report is being released at the New Zealand Bar Association Conference starting in Rotorua tomorrow (Friday). Association President, Clive Elliott QC, says the Report is clear that more needs to be done to help people who can’t afford legal representation.
“It is not enough for us as lawyers to make comment on the issue, we need to come up with actions not just words. We need to be an active part of the solution,” says Clive Elliott.
He says the Legal Aid system is not achieving what it should as a large portion of the population do not qualify for legal aid (income ceiling set at $23,820) but are never-the-less unable to pay for legal services.
“In addition, it is the view of the NZ Bar Association that there are fewer lawyers making themselves available for Legal Aid work because of a drop in the funding available,” says Clive Elliott.
The Report recommends that a working group from across the legal profession be established to advocate for changes to the Legal Aid scheme, including increased funding.
The Access to Justice Report authors, Auckland lawyers Maria Dew and Simon Foote, say a more coordinated and well-resourced approach to the provision of pro bono legal services should also be considered.
“Community Law Centres are an important access point to justice for many in our community and there is no doubt that there is an opportunity for New Zealand barristers to give these Community Law Centres greater support with legal services. This additional support and further work around how the gateways to legal services operate has become essential to making the needed improvements,” says Maria Dew.
Simon Foote says there is a need to have a more effective way to identify pro bono and low bono work for barristers to accept.
“Currently a significant amount of time can be spent by individual barristers assessing the most suitable pro bono and low bono work that could be taken on. A better way of identifying these cases and matching them with the right barrister, through community law centres or some form of clearing house, could give very tangible benefits,” says Simon Foote.
The full Access to Justice Report is available on www.nzbar.org.nz