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Lawyers behaving badly: report reveals

Lawyers behaving badly: report reveals

A shocking new report uncovers lawyers who 'game' the system, maximise legal aid payments and who are ill-prepared for cases.

THE New Zealand government admits it is shocked by the findings of a newly released review of the country’s legal aid system.

New Zealand’s Justice Minister Simon Power said he is deeply concerned by the findings of Dame Margaret Bazley’s review of the legal aid system, and said the government would act on its recommendations.

The review, commissioned by Power in April this year, was set up to determine how the system could be structured to deliver better legal services to those in need.

The report finds a poor relationship between the country’s law society and the Legal Services Agency, as well as a reluctance by the LSA to exercise the discretion available to it.

The report claims the quality delivered by legal aid is variable, and states there is an over-reliance on complaints as an indicator of lawyers who are failing to perform.

Lawyers’ behaviour is targeted in the report, and Bazley’s reports suggests poor practices include lawyers who “game” the system by delaying pleas to maximize legal aid payments.

Lawyers are also demanding top up payments from clients, the report states, and are often ill-prepared for cases.

Power said of the findings: “When someone as experiences in providing services to the public as Dame Margaret talks about system-wide failings, a system open to abuse, and appalling behaviour, we know we have a problem.”

Power said the findings “go to the very centre of the integrity of out legal system”.

“Things must change, and fast … I’m particularly concerned by her comments on the operation of the LSA, and at the way some lawyers are taking advantage of the system.

“I realise this report will create uncertainty for many in the legal aid system, and particularly for those in the LSA,” he said.

Power said he would raise some of the recommendations in Cabinet today to ensure the country can maintain certainty around the delivery of legal aid.

“We will act on the remainder of the recommendations early in the new year,” he said.

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