New laws reports that on the 6th of April a new bill which will radically overhaul the legal aid system passed its final reading in Parliament.
The new law follows on from a report tabled by Dame Margaret Bazley at the request of the government. The report highlighted the many failings in New Zealand’s legal aid system and called upon the government to take urgent action to restore trust in the system.
“The new legislation is aimed at improving the quality, efficiency, and effectiveness of legal aid for the people who use it, and for the taxpayers who pay for it,” Justice Minister Simon Power said.
Highlights of the new law include
- The bill introduces new quality assurance standards that legal aid lawyers will have to meet. Lawyers will need to demonstrate a level of competency to a selection committee and the quality of service providers will henceforth be monitored by the Ministry. There will also be a need for periodic re application to the legal aid panel after a fixed term of up to five years.
- The Legal Services Agency is disestablished with oversight of legal aid administration now the domain of the Secretary for Justice.
- The bill establishes the office of the Legal Services Commissioner who will now oversee the granting of legal aid and be tasked with ensuring that lawyers in the public defence system are independent.
- The system for low cost criminal applications will receive a major overhaul. Henceforth these applications will involve a shorter application form and repayment will not be required unless a set amount, to be determined, is exceeded.
- The bill creates the Legal Aid Tribunal which will hear applications for a review of any decision of the legal services commissioner. This office takes the place of the former Legal aid review panel.
In addition to the new law further proposals are to be announced to address the considerable cost pressure the legal aid system is under.
“Together, the Government’s measures will improve the administration and quality of legal aid services and ensure that the system remains financially sustainable.”
In the 2009/10 financial year alone the Legal Services Agency made 89,042 new grants of legal aid.
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