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NZ needs legal aid review: Justice Minister

NZ needs legal aid review: Justice Minister

The New Zealand Minister of Justice has released a discussion paper aimed at improving the legal aid system

. In what is the first part of a complete review of the legal aid system, he now asks the profession for advice. 

The legal aid system in New Zealand is facing challenges in terms of increasing costs and decreasing quality, Simon Power, the NZ Minister of Justice announced today. 

The new review of legal aid, labelled 'Improving the Legal Aid System', will consider how the system can be better structured to deliver effective legal services to those who most need them, he said. 

Chairperson of the legal aid review, Dame Margaret Bazley, said that since she took the position on 1 April this year, she has seen a system "that has arbitrarily divided legal aid services into categories of information and education, legal advice, and legal representation". 

Bazley said the legal aid system is "overwhelmingly" focused on the end of the dispute resolution system. "A large number of people who interact with the legal aid system interact at the information and education end, but the bulk of legal aid funding is spent on representation."

She said there are interdependencies between the various elements of the legal aid system in New Zealand, and the broader social services that many legal aid clients already use. She suggested the elements operate along a continuum, rather than arbitrarily dividing the services along provider and sector lines. 

The various divisions mean "the legal aid system seems to under-utilise the very valuable services offered by community-based organisations such as Citizens Advice Bureaux, community law centres, and the wider social services", Bazley said. 

There are problems, as well, with workforce shortages in some regions and law types, Bazley said. She said the quality is inconsistent, that there is a "burdensome administrative requirement on lawyers, and that there are increasing administration costs to teh Government. 

The system has failed so far to impose effective case management to ensure that legally aided litigation progresses in the most cost-effective way through the justice system, said Bazley. 

"The system is fragmented and there is a lack of a clear, single line of accountability for ensuring good value for money from public funds."

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