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From the Law Society

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Access to justice

Unless there is better access to justice “we will live in a society where the strong will by any means, including violence, always win out against the weak”.

These well-reported words of the then Chief High Court Judge, Justice Helen Winkelmann – which she said in her 2014 New Zealand Law Foundation Ethel Benjamin Commemorative Address – remain at least as true today as when she delivered them.

New Zealand society as a whole needs to urgently address the problem that we have in this country where significant barriers are in place that effectively deny many citizens from accessing justice.

It is, therefore, very pleasing to note the initiatives taken by law students and young lawyers that aim to improve access to justice. Three of these are the Equal Justice Project in Auckland, the Wellington Community Justice Project, and Law for Change, which has groups in Auckland, Canterbury, Dunedin, Waikato and Wellington.

This issue of LawTalk focuses on one of these initiatives, the Wellington Community Justice Project (CJP).

I only recently became aware of this fantastic initiative. What a great idea. It is something that its founders and the many students who have followed can be very proud of.

In my role as a lawyer, where I regularly appear in court on criminal matters, I observe that providing just outcomes for people frequently involves not only access to the justice system itself, it also involves providing access in other areas of people’s lives. These may be accommodation, or benefit issues, or drug and alcohol problems – to name just three.

CJP volunteers are regularly involved in helping people access the community support organisations that can help with the issues in their lives that need addressing.

That is not all that the CJP volunteers do either. They assist in a Community Law Wellington initiative which gives parents advice and support when their child has been suspended from school. They are also involved in visiting schools to present to students about their legal rights on a range of life issues. They assist community organisations in preparing and presenting submissions to Parliament’s select committees. And they are involved in human rights issues.

It is very pleasing to see law students and young lawyers involved in this way. As well as the help they are providing in improving access to justice, they are developing very useful practical skill sets that will enhance their performance when the time comes for them to practise law.

I have to say that I would have welcomed the opportunity to be involved in an initiative such as this when I was studying law.

This all augurs well for the future of the legal profession too. The fact that the students are already providing such invaluable service demonstrates that the profession will be in great hands when they take their turns as our future leaders.

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