New Zealand Law Society - Updates to Legal Aid Services for lawyers in response to COVID-19

Updates to Legal Aid Services for lawyers in response to COVID-19

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The Ministry of Justice has provided further updates and clarification to Legal Aid Services as of 9 April, 2020.

Timeframe for claiming for payment for legal aid services

Claims for legal aid services that are submitted outside the usual six-month timeframe because of disruption to providers’ administrative processes caused by the COVID-19 emergency will not be declined for being outside the timeframe. Although providers submitting claims outside of the timeframe should include an explanation for the delay.

For fixed fee cases, the timeframe applies from completion of the services while for services delivered on an hourly basis it applies from the time the services were delivered.

Information on eligibility

When assessing legal aid and where income has changed suddenly, the MoJ may consider the current income and project it forward for the next 12 months. This means where a person has recently become unemployed or lost access to income because of the current situation, eligibility will be assessed on current income, if it is appropriate in the circumstances.

Family Legal Advice Service

The eligibility assessment for the Family Legal Advice Service is based on the client’s income for the past three months. However, clients may be assessed on current income when their financial situation has changed suddenly, as a result of separation and/or for someone whose proof of income from the previous three months is not valid, ie due to COVID-19.

To ensure that people needing family legal advice can receive the most appropriate service during the COVID-19 emergency, the Family Legal Advice Service may now be delivered by online video chat services.

In remote circumstances providers will continue to be responsible for establishing eligibility of people seeking the service and must continue to retain evidence for audit purposes.

Providers must further obtain information from the person sufficient to complete the application form, except for the person’s signature. They must sight the relevant identification and eligibility documents and note appropriate information about them. For identity documents, the document name, number, date issued and expiry date should be retained. For eligibility purposes, providers should retain at least a description of the documents reviewed, their date and the 3-month income they established.

Additional Fees due to COVID-19 activities

There may be additional services required of legal aid providers as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown. For example, in family cases lawyers may have assisted with negotiation of care arrangements during the lockdown. In criminal cases, adjournments may have required additional communications with your client, the court and other agencies.

Where additional services have been provided to, or on behalf of your client, as a result of the lockdown we will approve up to 2 hours at your legal aid rate for the case without needing an amendment to grant.

Providers’ invoices should briefly describe the additional services and reference the COVID-19 lockdown.

Travel Policy

Duty Lawyers are now covered under the announced temporary policy for providers to claim travel expenses between home and the Court, a place of detention or a Parole Board hearing where:

  • the distance is greater than 50 kilometres, or
  • the return travel time is greater than one hour.

Duty Lawyer Payments

When a duty lawyer is rostered to be available for the duty lawyer service, he or she may claim a minimum 2 hours, or the actual hours attended, if that is more than 2 hours. This applies to rosters as adjusted to reflect the COVID-19 situation.

Due to some hearings taken place via AVL, duty lawyers may be required to print disclosure or opposed bail paperwork.

Currently, Duty Lawyer policy does not account for disbursements, however, during this period, the MoJ will pay the standard $0.10 per page.

Duty Lawyer coverage

In relation to duty lawyer coverage, the MoJ has agreed with the Public Defence Service that all duty lawyer work will be provided by private providers for the duration of the level 4 response period.

This refers only to PDS duty lawyers on rosters, PDS Duty Lawyer Supervisors will continue to remain in place at PDS courts during this time.

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