Legal Aid review

Yet to read the full report itself, but the Herald sums it up:

A damning review of says a sea change is needed to fix a system undermined by incompetent, unscrupulous and sometimes corrupt lawyers looking after their own interests.

The Legal Aid Review report released this morning recommended the Legal Services Agency, which administers the aid, lose its independent status and be folded into the Justice Ministry.

It said administrative costs were out of control and raised serious concerns about how the agency operated which had opened the system up to abuse by bad lawyers.

Wow that is much more damning and much more a radical solution than I expected. Some of the issues found:

* lawyers making sentencing submissions without having read the pre-sentence report;

* lawyers ignorant of legal principles and not realising their own ignorance;

* lawyers failing to turn up to court;

* “car boot lawyers” using a District Court law library phone as their office number and using interviewing rooms as their offices;

* lawyers gaming the system by delaying a plea or changing pleas part-way through the process to maximise payments – Dame Margaret said unverified sources believed up to 80 per cent of lawyers practising in Manukau District Court could be gaming the system;

* lawyers who demanded or accepted top up payments from clients who do not understand legal aid;

* widespread abuse of the preferred lawyer policy by duty solicitors, including taking backhanders for recommending particular lawyers to applicants.

I can’t imagine this report will just be filed somewhere to gather dust. Watch this space.

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