Legal Aid

The discussion paper by Dame Margaret Bazley is here.

At this stage there are no firm recommendations, just issues for discussion.

  • In last year grants increased from 73,905 to 85,158. Mostly criminal, followed by family.
  • Cost of increased in last year from $108 million to $124 million. Of that $67 million is criminal. Family cases cost more on average per case.
  • 45% of legal aid budget goes on 5% of cases
  • The top 100 cases (0.17% of total) cost 17% ($18.3m) of total scheme
  • Top ten cases cost 300 times the average
  • There is a reluctance by LSA to apply the “prospects of success” test for legal aid applications, as they do not wish to usurp role of court.
  • Legal aid for Treaty claims is available from three sources – LSA, OTS and CFRT, and double dipping may occur even though info is shared.
  • A small but significant number of legal aid lawyers are of low quality, often unprepared, and over-committed
  • Problems especially with sole barristers with no offices in Auckland – “car boot lawyers”
  • The relatively low rate for legal aid work may be responsible for the quality issues identified.
  • In UK they are looking at preferred legal aid suppliers which reduces compliance costs and providers greater certainty of income for those preferred suppliers
  • Another option is a fixed fee for categories of cases
  • Little performance monitoring of providers
  • The focus on legal aid payments on court events ,may encourage lawyers to use only court events to move cases forward
  • Pros and cons of capping certain categories of legal aid are discussed
  • Bulk funding of some services to be considered
  • Pilot of Public Defenders Service to be extended in Auckland. Review found savings in legal aid costs, savings in court time and costs, improved quality of services,better training of junior lawyers, and greater trust between prosecutors and defence.

I have blogged previously my support for the PDS concept, and it is good to see the trial seems to have been successful. I think expansion of this service will be part of the solution – but only part.

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