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Community mediation services pilot in South Auckland

01 December 2017 - By Craig Stephen

The word going round about its new mediation service was all that was needed for a South Auckland community law centre to receive cases from the courts to work on.

The Community Legal Services South Trust launched its community mediation services pilot in October.

The trust is one of 24 community law centres around New Zealand, covering South Auckland and Franklin with eight lawyers and three administration staff. The pilot relies on pro bono work from registered mediators and lawyers.

Its Manager Māori Legal Services, Wi Pere Mita, says the scheme was launched with the aim of working out issues for those on low incomes.

“It’s an extension of our community legal services. We are not receiving any extra funding for it, but we feel there is a need for the service in our area, so the idea was we could try and meet the gap in our services by providing the mediation service. And given that we don’t have any extra funding for it, we are relying on pro bono mediators to assist us with delivering the service.”

Mr Mita says before the project got off the ground there were constructive meetings with police and court staff.

“We would encourage some of our clients to use the service if we feel it necessary but, we have also spoken to the local police, the local council and other stakeholders and they’re happy to provide referrals to the service. The police often deal with what they call civil matters and they don’t have anywhere to send those matters, so if there are disputes that aren’t of a criminal nature then they are more than happy to refer it through our service.

“The courts began referring matters here even before it was formally launched. If they feel that it could be resolved through an alternative process they will refer it to us as well.

“We’ve been quite lucky in that we’ve had really good responses so far, and the experience of the mediators who have offered to work on a pro bono basis ranges from commercial matters to grassroots neighbourhood disputes to contract disputes and so on, so there’s a whole array of experience that has been offered to the service, which we’re really pleased about. And that means that we can extend the service to beyond what we were initially intending for it to cover.”

The pilot appears to be a first in New Zealand.

“We’re not aware of any other community law centres offering community mediation services. Some of them do offer restorative justice services but we are not aware of any others offering mediation services so we appear to be the only one,” Mr Mita says.

“We were only envisaging receiving responses from mediators from within the Auckland region but we’ve actually had expressions from mediators in Wellington, as far north as Kerikeri, and as far west as New Plymouth. And they’re all willing to travel to Auckland to assist on a pro bono basis.”

The trust covers South Auckland and Franklin with outreach clinics in Otara, Papakura, Manurewa, Manukau and Pukekohe.

There are particular issues that it deals with given the socio-economic make-up of the area it covers.

“We deal with a lot of immigration issues, as South Auckland is heavily populated with Pacific Islanders. We also do a lot of employment and family Court work,” Mr Mita says.

“More than half of our service users are Pacific Islanders, the next largest group that come to us are Māori, and we have mix of everyone else.”

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Last updated on the 1st December 2017