National MP Simon Bridges, until recently a Crown prosecutor, said there was a growing perception that some of the $54 million the Legal Services Agency spent in the past financial year on criminal legal aid was funding cases where there was no prospect of success.
Mr Bridges said he had received reports of milking the system, such as “a fourth bail application when it is clear that he or she failed the first three times and the fourth one is simply unnecessary”.
Mr Bridges said another example could be the funding of cases to a preparation time of 50 hours, when that amount of time was not needed. Legal aid rates range from $105 to $182 an hour.
Mr Bridges also had reports of “rather too cosy relationships between [agency] staff and particular counsel”.
The cost of criminal legal aid alone is now over $50 million and has blown out by 42% over the last five years.
Labour MP David Parker, also a lawyer, said senior criminal lawyers, particularly in Auckland, had told him there were “considerable numbers of counsel milking the system, particularly inferior counsel”.
Mr Parker cited trials with many accused where six or seven defendants had individual lawyers, “because someone else [legal aid] was paying”, rather than the compromise of having fewer lawyers to represent them as would be likely if they were paying themselves.
Good to see David Parker also raising concerns. Maybe Nats and Labour can do an inquiry?
But some good news from the agency chair, Carole Durbin:
She said its in-house public defence service, a pilot scheme made permanent last year, was one of its “bright lights”.
I think there is considerable merit in having a public defenders office.