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Update on legal aid

30 November 2018 - By Geoff Adlam

Gross legal aid payments have risen to their highest level in over eight years. The average gross payment made to each provider has also been moving up steadily, with an increase of 32% since 2013. In the same time, the number of providers who received a payment has fallen by 8%. It appears that the main driver of the latest rise in payments are increases in the criminal legal aid fixed fees.

The information released by the Ministry of Justice for the year to 30 June 2018 shows that since major changes were made to legal aid eligibility and provider status in 2010 there has been a steady upward trend in average and median provider payments. The median (middle) gross payment per provider has increased by 33% over the last four years.

The data shows the gross amount paid to approved providers, exclusive of GST. It includes fees claimed on behalf of other approved providers, plus disbursements for general office costs, travel costs, and special disbursements – which include fees for agents, expert witnesses, forensic tests, interpreters and special reports.

Gross legal aid payments, year to 30 June

YearPaymentsProvidersAverageMedian
2018$158,318,520.261205$131,384.66$90,497.00
2017$143,379,904.641193$120,184.33$83,152.80
2016$134,759,778.101210$111,371.72$73,528.42
2015$130,215,953.301224$106,385.58$68,147.22
2014$124,580.223.801240$100,467.92$63,064.61
2013$130,258,884.901311$99,358.42$63,132.73
2012$148,306,784.401465$101,233.30$64,152.27
2011$154,090,071.281488$103,555.16$62,257.61

There were the usual big variations among the 1,205 approved providers who received a payment in the latest year. The highest gross amount paid to a provider was $1,787,171, with seven providers receiving over $1 million in gross payments. Just under one-third – 31.5% – of providers received a gross payment under $50,000.

Gross legal aid payments, year to 30 June 2018

Gross paymentsProviders% ProvidersTotal Value% Total Value
$1 million plus70.6%$9,338,650.525.9%
$500,000 to $999,999302.5%$20,025,144.6012.6%
$200,000 to $499,99918315.2%$54,542,160.6734.5%
$100,000 to $199,99932827.2%$45,857,526.3028.9%
$50,000 to $99,99927723.0%$20,887,054.5713.2%
$30,000 to $49,9991058.7%$4,107,889.392.6%
$10,000 to $29,99917014.1%$3,151,805.192.0%
$1 to $9,9991058.7%$408,289.020.3%

Location

With 44% of New Zealand’s lawyers, Auckland received 31% of total gross payments in the latest year. Rotorua, Whangārei, Lower Hutt, Palmerston North and Gisborne among the main centres all received a proportion of total gross payments above their proportion of lawyers.

Highest total gross legal aid payments by location, year to 30 June 2018

CentreProvidersTotal gross% New Zealand$100,000+
Auckland418$48,549,312.2930.7%179
Christchurch101$11,737,628.377.4%45
Wellington76$11,734,611.557.4%26
Hamilton72$10,566,149.966.7%41
Rotorua34$7,661,653.714.8%22
Whangārei31$5,281,359.933.3%20
Tauranga47$5,094,955.933.2%17
Lower Hutt15$4,349,907.592.7%12
Palmerston North20$3,920,049.642.5%13
Dunedin43$3,817,850.782.4%11
Rest of New Zealand348$45,605,040.6128.8%162
Total1205$15315226100%548

Highest average gross legal aid payments by location, year to 30 June 2018

CentreProvidersAverage grossMedian
Whakatane7$306,843.84$238,499.02
Kaikohe7$294,782.36$278,295.57
Lower Hutt15$289,993.84$247,910.28
Gisborne14$263,796.09$141,375.85
Whanganui13$251,861.82$146,464.90
Rotorua34$225,342.76$137,157.38
Palmerston North20$196,002.48$141,758.27
Pukekohe4$184,113.33$187,433.57
Otaki3$177,965.11$95,003.16
Whangārei31$170,366.45$146,222.89
Rest of New Zealand1057$117,934.22 
Total1205$133866$94900

Payments by type of legal aid

Following a request for further information, the ministry says most of the increase was in criminal legal aid ($12.3 million of the $15.7 million increase between 2016/17 and 2017/18) and family legal aid ($2.8 million increase). The ministry’s figures differ slightly from the gross payments to providers because of timing differences.

Ministry of Justice legal aid expenditure, year to 30 June ($ million)

Category20172018Variance
Civil legal aid$5.6$5.72%
Criminal legal aid$68.8$81.118%
Duty lawyer$10.7$10.6(1%)
Police detention legal assistance$0.4$0.40%
Family legal aid$42.4$45.27%
Family legal advice service$1.0$1.220%
Waitangi legal aid$15.5$15.93%
Total$144$16111%

The ministry has also provided information on the volume of legal aid grants by jurisdiction. This shows that the volume of criminal grants increased by 3%. It says the difference between the number of grants and the value is because the average cost of criminal grants increased “largely because of the increases to the criminal fixed fee schedules”.

The volume of civil grants increased by 22%, with expenditure up by just 2%. The ministry says civil grants often continue for longer than 12 months and “consequently, the expenditure and volume of grants in a year are not directly compatible. The average costs of civil grants have not decreased.”

Number of grants of legal aid, year to 30 June

Category20172018Variance
Criminal legal aid (excludes PDS)42,06343,2633%
Family legal aid17,89717,8840%
Civil legal aid1,0181,22522%
Waitangi Tribunal15220535%
Total613065772%

Last updated on the 30th November 2018