Legal Aid review

November 29th, 2009 at 11:11 am by David Farrar

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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70 Responses to “Legal Aid review”

  1. tvb (4,328 comments) says:

    Some of the problems developed because in the late 1990s there was a substantial cut in the remuneration and then there was no increase for some years. So over that period the firms dropped out of legal aid and sole practitioners took up the slack and cut costs as much as they could – hence the so called “car boot lawyers”, most of whom worked from home rather than set up a separate office. The more unscrupulous practices of a few such as taking “top-up” fees also occurred. In other words the worst excesses are a more recent phenomenon in response to cost cutting. Dame Margaret seems to be saying clean up your act, become more professional and we will reward you with a better fee structure in time. The work load in the criminal court is not stopping. It is becoming much more complex, significant law changes are occurring all the time, and sentences are getting harsher. The great bulk of criminal law work – 90% plus is legal aid. Maybe the Government will accept some people will just go unrepresented. In the past legal aid has been focussed on only people who are at risk of going to jail, maybe many of those will no longer get representation.

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  2. Graeme Edgeler (3,282 comments) says:

    The initial reports – cribbed from the summary – don’t nearly expound on what Bazley found.

    A quote like this: “lawyers who demanded or accepted top up payments from clients who do not understand legal aid” sounds bad, but in the full version is followed by a call for the police to be called to investigate it as fraud and the lawyers involved to be disbarred.

    Did have to laugh at this, however:

    “The Public defence Service should be used in courts in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. It should also be used where there are particular problems with quality, and one should be established in Palmerston North as soon as possible.”

    Palmerston North Criminal Bar Fail.

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  3. alex Masterley (1,507 comments) says:

    For me the origin of the problem was the passing of the Law Practitioners ACt 1982, which was amended during the second readingof the act to remove from Barristers as opposed to a requirement for 3 years PQE for solicitors the need to have 3 years post admission experience before setting up their own account.

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  4. Countess (150 comments) says:

    I think the reference to car boot means they have no office number or address at all, rather than a home office.
    Many professionals have home offices, and its what it sounds like. They can be reached there, meet clients etc.
    These car boot people had only a mobile contact and while logically did have a desk or room at home for working at , they werent reachable while there.

    The strange thing is this has been an open secret, especially in Manukau. The entire court in Manukau seems to have been a rats nest, not just the legal aid part

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  5. backster (2,141 comments) says:

    One point not covered is that most criminals appearing on serious criminal charges have already had legal aid up to 50-60 times. Surely at some point their ability to incur such great public expense should be curtailed, likewise the Appeal industry should also be limited or deterred by increases in sentences where there are no substantial grounds.

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  6. Countess (150 comments) says:

    Should be fairly easy to find out those lawyers who have taken illegal payments, unless it was ‘cash’.
    However I imagine a few lawyers will be buying one way tickets to Australia at the end of the year, so the legal aid system will become a further shambles.

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  7. Gooner (995 comments) says:

    The *real* problem is piss weak markers and examiners at universities who are all too willing to give pass marks to students who produce shoddy exams because it’s “not fair” that they fail.

    The standards are too low. Universities should fail many more students than they are. Then you would find that standards increase as only intelligent and hard working students will turn into good, honest, hard working lawyers.

    Ridding our universities of affirmative action policies is a good starting point.

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  8. Viking2 (11,370 comments) says:

    The whole justice system is stuffed. This week a Judge who belatedly and grudgingly after the third ask revealed his dealings with the lawyer before him. Incestuous relationships comes to mind.
    Then today Power appoints a QC to investigate the Watson farce, A lawyer who works in the Ministry, does police work and spent half her life working alongside the very person who has been responsible for the farce.

    And they want to roll it all together. Better to break it up and have an independent prosecution service. Split the police from prosecution, bring in less compromised jurists from other jurisdictions, pay members of a jury properly, tell the public to get their own defense insurance.
    Shit I’m feed up with paying for others crappy behavoir.

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  9. Gooner (995 comments) says:

    Viking2, the problem is that we are a small country. That’s the problem. These things stem from that.

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  10. dad4justice (8,097 comments) says:

    Merry Christmas to all those legal aid funded lawyers that enjoyed the gravy train with my family court file number for 8 years!
    Justice is coming.

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  11. Inventory2 (10,269 comments) says:

    I had to laugh when I heard Liane Dalziel on the radio yesterday demanding that the Government take immediate action to restore confidence in the legal aid system. FFS, who was the government for the bulk of the time when these rorts were occurring? Why didn’t Dalziel do something whilst she had executive powers? Methinks Miss Dalziel doth protest too much :-)

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  12. Steriodman (6 comments) says:

    Unfortunately it is not just the lawyers who are routing the system. In the past few years the number of professional people practicing in New Zealand who have been found guilty of committing serious crime and have then been treated with leniency has reached epidemic proportions.

    The professional edict and standards are low because there is a lack of accountability. With out accountability there are no standards and it calls into question the behavior of the professional.

    From my own experienced over that past few years the professional standards are exceptionally low to meet the needs of a secret agenda. Our legal system is based on conflict and with the low professional standards it effectively empowers the wealthy professions and government department.

    The crime against me is serious beyond belief and I am probably very lucky to still be alive. The police have lost valuable information, and they do not want to know about attempts on my life, and they went out of their way to defame me. The doctors and local hospital ignored me for far to long, and others may have been put at risk.

    The professionals I have had dealings with must think that it is safe to deny me both medical and legal assistants and to pervert the course of justice to do so. They must all think that they are above accountability, regardless of the evidence and the witnesses to the crime.

    I can imaging that the Dame Bazley report will be filed away and forgotten. We have very low standards of accountability for professionals as a can be seen by their reaction to the report. They are not interested in professionalism or they would be concerned about the report and ensure that the standards are accountable.

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  13. tvb (4,328 comments) says:

    “Bulk funding” does offer up some interesting possibilities. By that I do not expect some law firm will be awarded thousands of dollars a month to do work with little accountability. What I expect to happen is there will be a competitive tender situation especially for summary court work. If certain guarantees can be provided about work volume then the unit price that presently exists can be reduced. Experienced lawyers in this jurisdiction could tender very competitively. Trials are a different matter but again more routine trials of 1-2 days duration could also be subject to tender at an agreed number of such trials being provided per month. With guarantees of amounts of work the unit price per case can drop. That is phase II of this reform. The pool of experienced Barristers that presently exist would be able to tender for work on a guaranteed work basis very competitively indeed and still earn a very good income. That would be win-win for everybody.

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  14. Swiftman the infidel (329 comments) says:

    Lawyers in bed with criminals?

    My, what a surprise.

    The lawyers gain, the crims gain, two out of three ain’t bad!

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  15. Rex Widerstrom (5,349 comments) says:

    tvb notes:

    …the worst excesses are a more recent phenomenon in response to cost cutting

    Yes, so by all means let’s weed out those seeking “top up fees” (what is it about South Auckland that seems to attract the Arthur Daley’s of everything from lawyering to MPing?!).

    But does Dame Margaret (whose answer to everything when she was in charge of Social Welfare was “cut costs!”) support a vast increase in payments to the few remaining lawyers dedicated enough to properly defend their clients for a pittance?

    Does she heck. Let’s have a Public Defenders’ Office, which we can continue to underfund (but make it look as though we’re spending lots by employing an army of bureaucrats) because of course when the defence and the prosecution are both arms of the state, you get exceptionally fair trials, and the Justice Ministry is renowned for admitting it’s made prosecutorial errors and then putting things right. Just ask Peter Ellis.

    So now everyone is left with the impression that any lawyer willing to work on the pittance given by Legal Aid is a crook, and the best agency to defend someone from the excesses of state power is the state itself. I’ll bet Power, The Garotte et al are fairly quivering with excitement.

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  16. Viking2 (11,370 comments) says:

    Goner; we are but that doesn’t stop us from operating with principle. Something the Nats actually seem to have little idea about for some unknown reason.
    We can have an independent prosecution service. this would ensure that the police have to get their evidence up to scratch and not just fudge it with the fellow at the next desk and any citizen could bring evidence for a prosecution to that service. Imagine what that would do for crime.
    I actually suggested this to Power and he thought it a good idea but?????

    We can bring in Judges from overseas. Good example is the legal people from NZ who go to Hong Kong to be a Judge.
    Not hard to do and much better than continuing the incestuous situation we have now. We need to enlarge the pool. Probably all Judges positions should be open to the world work force. Perhaps even be open for tender. Might bring the cost of these supposedly learned people down.

    These guys are captured by their bureaucracy and frankly don’t know how to get rid of them. I have no doubt that they have forsaken policy making for constant talking and replying to reports from public servants that actually have no desire to change. They need to do what they said they would. Give the public service a good clean out especially at the top.
    That’s what any company would do to save its skin. One term Nats.

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  17. V (693 comments) says:

    “a system undermined by incompetent, unscrupulous and sometimes corrupt lawyers looking after their own interests”

    The travesty is that we actually needed to commission a report (probably involving more lawyers) to state the obvious.

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  18. GPT1 (2,116 comments) says:

    I note that the media have got far more excited about the allegations of corruption than the bit hidden in the depths about underfunding.

    As a Judge said to me after the report was publicised – ‘if (and it was a big if) there really are 200 lawyers rorting the system then 125 of them are in Manakau’. Manakau is, from all reports, completely stuffed. The police are generally inexperienced, incompetent and/or corrupt (a former defence counsel told me that you basically defended everything there because the police were simply not believed – in Chch any minority who chose to lie (and I am sure it is a minority) can do so with virtual impunity because the standard of policing is relatvely higher).

    I have no doubt that there are a few incompetent lawyers out there and that there are a few who have their hands in cookie jars that they shouldn’t. But it should not be used as an excuse to label the entire profession corrupt or further screw those lawyers who are already working long hours for comparatively light reward.

    I was further annoyed by Bazley stating that the law society needs to stamp these issues out or lose it’s professional regulatoin authortiy. Quite frankly that’s a fucking cheek. The NZLS has been consumed over the last five years (at the expense of all lawyers) with the implementation of the Lawyers & Conveyancers Act. Someone decided that conveyancing should be deregulated (fine) but at the same time re-wrote the entire legislation for the Profession. Masses of work has gone into making that Act work with Government pretty much leaving the hard yards to the Profession (including regulation of Professional Conveyancers). And now the Law Society is meant to take a pro active role in chasing down the alleged incompetents? There are many mechanisms for complaints to be handled (in an increasingly time and cost consuming way I might add – it’s a professional whingers paradise) but someone has to make the complaint. I would have thought a good place for complaints and reviews to start would be with Legal Services who actually contract legal aid lawyers (and spend a fortune in regulation).

    The report also refers to rumours and hearsay as fact. Apparently she has based a number of the allegations on what court staff or convicted criminals have told her. Each have their own views. The MoJ regard defence lawyers as a hindrance on Court clear up. They are not interested quality of advice just that the “defence” box is ticked and the defendant is moved on as quickly as possible.

    There seems to be an interesting lack of focus on fundamental rights to a defence, under investment and inequality of arms (with defence being paid less than the Crown). Probably just side shows to the headline makers.

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  19. Whafe (650 comments) says:

    The legal system is like a good many businesses, the last decade has been one of boom times money wise, this enabled dip shits to succeed in many positions, as am sure many shit lawyers….

    It is all changing now, the pressure of a global economy in the bottom of a beach dug longdrop is starting to really show peoples skill levels etc, anyone can look good when a business is booming and there is obscene amounts of money out there…. The whole situation is very different these days…

    Is amazing how often dodgy dealings come up in the region of Manukau…. Seems there is far more rotten egss than good eggs…

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  20. tvb (4,328 comments) says:

    Good lawyers make the court system work. Court staff really appreciate lawyers sorting things out and lawyers really appreciate the Court staff. It is a partnership aimed at transacting the business at hand in an efficient way.

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  21. GPT1 (2,116 comments) says:

    Whafe – explain to me how the last decade has been a boom time for legal aid? In 1990 the rates were cut, by around a third. They still have not got back to 1990 levels. They are about 2/3rds for Crown rates and 1/3rd of Commercial rates. Your hypotheses is completely wrong.

    The reason dipshits have got into legal aid is because after you take out those few of us who do it because we couldn’t imagine risking the paper cuts and suicidal boredom of a commercial law practice it only leaves those who can’t get a job in a firm or established chambers. And without that type of environment they don’t get any training.

    And speaking of training perhaps Parliament might like to stop changing the law every five minutes so we can all catch our breath.

    You are right however about Manakau – not all is well in that state!

    TVB – there is some truth in what you say and my comments about the MOJ should be seen as aimed at a policy level and not specific court staff. Particularly not Chch court staff who are generally excellent.

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  22. wreck1080 (3,861 comments) says:

    I see nothing wrong with the car-boot side of things.

    This is minimising costs, and if the lawyer is good it should not affect clients quality of service.

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  23. wreck1080 (3,861 comments) says:

    I’d like to hear from F E Smith, and whether he has changed his mind now.

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  24. GPT1 (2,116 comments) says:

    wreck1080 – FES has changed his mind on what?

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  25. alex Masterley (1,507 comments) says:

    I doubt that FES will change his views.
    GPT1 you are correct about the L&C Act. In addition to time wasted there has been 5-6 million, by my estimate, of funds, NZLS ADLS and other societies funds wasted on dealing with the new act. And we still have that dinosaur Alan Ritchie with his feet still under the table in Waring Taylor Street.
    I read the report twice now. Inuendo, gossip and generaly winging are treated as fact. a wierd consept of justice seems to have been chucked out the window as wingers have their say.

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  26. Whafe (650 comments) says:

    GPT1 – Indeed I may have had it wrong specifically in regards to legal aid, dare I say it, was venting a little…..

    But it will be very true that a small number of shit bags doing legal aid will be wrecking it for the vast majority that are hard working, honest decent people…..

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  27. Alan Wilkinson (1,868 comments) says:

    Anyone want to take a bet that the cure will be worse than the disease?

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  28. wreck1080 (3,861 comments) says:

    FES believed this whole thing was a media beat up. Mind you, he may have had a point at the time, since it was mainly the media and one MP driving these concerns about legal aid.

    However, this report seems to back up previous media reporting, so , I wonder if his mind has changed. But , probably not as he was pretty adamant at the time.

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  29. GPT1 (2,116 comments) says:

    So now everyone is left with the impression that any lawyer willing to work on the pittance given by Legal Aid is a crook, and the best agency to defend someone from the excesses of state power is the state itself. I’ll bet Power, The Garotte et al are fairly quivering with excitement.
    Rex that is outstanding. Brilliantly put.

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  30. GPT1 (2,116 comments) says:

    Alan – no bet on the cure being worse than the disease. Although it is pretty hard to cure anything when antibiotics are banned (or in this case reversing years of under investment).

    Alex – your point is bang on about gossip being treated as fact.

    Whafe – it is always the minority who ruin it for everyone. And the media will hardly run a headline of “Legal Aid Lawyers Massively Underpaid – Report” and put “a small minority are abusing the system” as a bullet point. I am all for turfing out the chaff (perhaps we could just kick Manakau out of the NZLS?) BUT that is the sideshow in the overall scheme of things. In fact it is a bloody wonder it has lasted this long. How long do you think the Police would have lasted if they had taken a pay cut of around a third in 1990 and still weren’t being paid the actual 1990 rate?

    wreck1080 – yes the report identifies some areas to work on. Although as I have said before it is largely a matter for the LSA (at least to the point of making a complaint). One has to wonder how of supposedly 200 lawyers rorting the system LSA have, allegedly, found one. And she, allegedly, was earning more money per day than was physically possible. Obvious good use of resources…
    !

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  31. GPT1 (2,116 comments) says:

    Power said while the Government could make structural changes, it was up to the Law Society to weed dodgy lawyers out of the system.
    Ok then – will government fund the NZLS to defend each and every JR that is brought as a result of Operation Weed Out?

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  32. F E Smith (3,304 comments) says:

    It has taken me a while to get the energy up to post on this topic. I am devastated by the way in which the media has taken the report and the later comments by Dame Margaret and turned them into sensationalist ‘news’. It has certainly made me reconsider my future with regard legal aid, mainly because I am so concerned for my reputation as a lawyer that, today, just saying you accept legal aid cases is enough for all and sundry to automatically assume that I am corrupt, incompetent and taking the ‘system’ for all it is worth. I see that in the report Dame Margaret says this is one reason firms are ceasing to do legal aid work and I understand that sentiment.

    None of those bad things apply to me, nor most of my colleagues. However, my willingness to continue in an area that means I am tarred with that reputation is something I, and all criminal defence lawyers, should question closely. In fact, it is my opinion that all lawyers currently doing legal aid work should carefully consider whether they should continue doing so. To cease doing legal aid will mean most of us have to find other areas of work, but it is clear that neither the public nor the government wish us to continue to provide criminal defence services to the government via legal aid. Therefore I believe we at the defence bar, and the family law bar, should actively move away from doing legal aid and only take cases on a private basis. If lawyers cease to do legal aid work then of course many people will either have to borrow money to pay our fees, or they will have to represent themselves. That is their issue, not ours. In many smaller centres there are no longer firms willing to do legal aid work and most report an increase in revenue since they ceased to undertake legally aided cases. I suggest that it is time the law profession as a group says that it will no longer accept legally aided cases from the government.

    I must point out, however, that my opinion above is based not on the report, but on the media reporting of it. The report is quite unlike the media reports and I suggest that it should be read by those commenting. Much of the report is given over to criticising the Legal Services Agency and the Courts themselves. Much of it is correct and I agree with it. Criticism of the lawyers is not so prominent as one might expect, given the attitude the media have taken.

    With regard the review, the answer to Wreck’s question above is that I have not changed my opinion. I do not believe this is a media beat up. I believe it is a Simon Power beat up and one that he has wante to do since he came to Parliament (and I base that on sources who have had discussions with him over the years). This was an inquiry akin to those seen in ‘Yes, Prime Minister’, where Dame Margaret knew what she was supposed to say with regards the substantive recommendations before she even began. It was about appointing someone ‘sound’ to do the review and Power got the right person to do it. Ironic, considering Power practised in Palmerston North, one of the place singled out as being below standard!

    I realise that DPF hasn’t had time to consider the 142 page report, but let’s have a look at it. Firstly, in the executive summary Dame Margaret says

    “There are many conscientious and experienced barristers and solicitors working in the legal aid system, who are a credit to their profession. There is also a small but significant proportion of lawyers providing very poor services. Behaviour I have heard about includes callous and arrogant indifference to clients’ needs, and an absolute disregard and disrespect for the court system, its processes, and its participants. Some lawyers appear to be acting corruptly, and should be disbarred.”

    So, the first thing she says is that many working in the system are a credit to their profession. That is very different from the focus of the headlines we have seen. Next, we get that there is a small, please note that, a small but significant portion of lawyers providing poor services. Well, we all know that, especially the lawyers. I can name a half dozen counsel who should not be working in the courts. I don’t know why they do, but they don’t seem to understand they are not up to the job. That is sad, but please understand that as an individual lawyer there is nothing I can do. I have raised this issue in my role as a member of my local NZLS branch’s litigation committee. The view there is, as is the NZLS view, that this is the responsibility of the Legal Services Agency. Probably that is correct, but the LSA has done nothing in the last 10 years to show it really cares to fulfil the statutory role that it has been given. Perhaps that is why the recommendation is to get rid of the organisation completely. To recommend that the LSA be disestablished completely shows, in my view, just how badly that organisation has done in its role. Incredibly, the LSA has managed, in 10 years, to cement an acrimonius relationship with the profession in every centre. Quite literally, the profession hates the LSA and cannot wait to see the back of it. This is recognised at page 17 of the report, where Dame Margaret says “The relationships the LSA has with the Law Society and the wider legal profession are so dysfunctional that I am concerned they will stand in the way of transformation of the legal aid system.” I must say that, in my experience, this legal of dysfunction appears to have been the goal of the LSA, from the top down. The level of antagonism that the profession gets from the LSA is astonishing. There are some exceptions (see page 21) but overall the relationship is bad. The LSA also de-prioritises payments to lawyers over other administration, resulting in many payments taking 2 or 3 months to be made once an invoice is tendered. Recently I did a survey of the barristers of my chambers and that next door, totalling 8 lawyers. Collectively we were owed over $250,000 going back over 3 months. Most of us were, and are, being paid in amounts of several hundred dollars at a time. Quite literally, some very experienced senior counsel were considering chucking it in because they could not pay their own expenses. Indeed, see page 22, where “For instance, one submitter has noted that it has substantial invoices that have been unpaid for over a year.”

    Ironically, prior to the LSA taking over it was the profession and the courts that administered legal aid. The only point of issue was the government setting the pay rates to low.

    Interestingly, Dame Margaret identifies a main factor in the degaradation of the system:

    “The legal aid system appears to have had a role in this, through the pay rates and administrative burdens that have led to many law firms exiting the system”

    which is what I and my fellow criminal defence lawyers have been saying all along. The pay rates are directly responsible for the firms exiting legal aid. Traditionally these have been where lawyers get trained, as we do not have the two separate professions of solicitors and barristers with their own training regimes. We should have that separation, I believe, but that is for another day.

    Just one other point, quickly, have a look at recommendation 46: “Affiliation with a group of lawyers should be a condition of accreditation for all lawyers, except the designated group of senior aid lawyers.” This is a great idea that the profession already has in the most part- we call it a chambers for barristers and a firm for solicitors!!!

    Point 57 is also huge, in my view, in that Dame Margaret recommends that “the legal aid system needs to accommodate some of the costs involved for lead providers who supervise the training of junior lawyers.” This has been a big failing of the Legal Services Agency, in that getting funding to allow junior lawyers to accompany senior lawyers on cases has been very difficult, only available in big cases with a very large workload. Dame Margaret notes this at page 74, where she says

    “Young law graduates do not emerge from university or the pre-admission professionals course as fully fledged competent advocates. Instead, entry into the legal profession marks the beginning of a whole new learning process. U nfortunately, that learning process is not working as well as it should, and I am concerned that the legal aid system may
    be, in part, to blame.”

    As a result, firms have not allowed junior lawyers to gain trial experience because the firm would have to pay for it themselves. That means that less and less junior lawyers gain experience and so the number of properly trained lawyers reduces. Now, the legal profession has a system to do this, developed over hundreds of years, called ‘junioring’. That is where a junior, or less senior, lawyer assists the senior lawyer who is running the case. The junior gets the experience of running a case, being in court and watching the senior lawyer run the case, while the senior lawyer gets the benefit of a second mind on the case, another pair of hands in court, and an assistant where needed.

    Dame Margaret notes further “Legal practice really involves learning by doing, and the trick is to ensure junior lawyers
    learn in a way that does not prejudice their clients or the courts. Junior lawyers need to be involved in the day-to-day management of cases, because this teaches them how to manage a case, meet deadlines and work efficiently. Junior lawyers need to spend time in court with senior counsel beside them, working their way up to leading the relatively structured opening address and cross-examination, and progressing to conducting jury trials with senior counsel
    sitting beside them.”

    and that

    “The Crown Solicitors still follow this kind of process, and it seems to result in a steady and sustained flow of high-quality lawyers being available to the Crown.”

    I myself learned with a senior barrister in this way. Before I was accredited by the LSA to lead jury trials, I juniored in over 20 jury trials, while also assisting with and conducting summary (judge alone) hearings. You will all be amazed to learn that the Legal Services Agency considers that a person should be able to run a jury trial if they have juniored in just 3 jury trials. That is their criteria. Even then, it is very hard for people in firms to get those 3 jury trials under their belt in order to progress up the ranks. Might I point out that a fair proportion (over half) of my junioring was done for free, because the LSA wouldn’t pay for a junior in the trial, or in the preparation beforehand.

    Dame Margaret makes the good point that “I think the legal aid system has had a role to play in the breakdown of tutelage. In part, it is because many firms have left the legal aid system. Some will have done so throughdissatisfaction with the pay rates and administrative burden associated with legal aid. As the law firms have left criminal legal aid, their place has been taken by “car boot lawyers”, who are often young, with few or no overheads, and few ties to their profession. I suspect that, more recently, as standards have dropped (particularly in areas like Manukau) other reputable firms will have left through a desire not to be tainted by association. This risks exacerbating a race to the bottom.”

    This has been a constant refrain from the profession over the years. People have written us off as wanting more money and being greedy, but when there are twin attacks, with reduced funding being one and the government (most notably Simon Power and the former Crown prosecutor from Tauranga) actively calling us crooks, who wants to be a part of the criminal defence bar?

    I make a point here, one that Dame Margaret did not make but should have. There is a difference between the ‘car boot lawyer’ that we all want to get rid of and the ‘barrister sole’. Dame Margaret seems to see the two things as one, but they are not. The former is merely a small subset of the latter. Barristers sole, like myself, for the most part are part of a chambers set-up where we have the ability to seek advice and have our own systems of quality control. There is a danger of thinking that each is the same as the other, and they are most certainly not. A barrister is a specialist in court work who is often far better placed to assist the legal aid client than someone in a firm, mainly because our experience is so much greater than those lawyers working in a firm.

    Perhaps this goes some way to addressing what I said above

    “I certainly do not wish to intimate that all, or even many, legal aid lawyers are causing problems. During the course of this review, I have travelled up and down New Zealand and met with many conscientious barristers and solicitors of considerable experience. These lawyers are committed to providing the best services they can to their clients, and are a credit to their profession. However, I must be clear about the small proportion of very poor lawyers who are tarnishing their
    colleagues’ reputations. I am inclined to think that these lawyers have led to some practitioners and firms leaving the legal aid system: they do not wish to be tainted by association.”

    Please note the words ‘small proportion’. Those are words that the media has missed. If they actually read the report, that is. We at the defence bar know about these bad lawyers, but it is felt there is little we can do, becuase the LSA is the agency responsible for these lawyers being accredited, not the Law Society. Dame Margaret recognises this in her report and that is one of the criticisms of the LSA.

    When it comes to criticising actual events, there is little real evidence. Tellingly, Manakau is a real issue, with Dame Margaret saying ““Car boot lawyers” are a problem, particularly in the Manukau District Court” and then “I have also been told that up to 80 per cent of the lawyers practising in the Manukau District Court could be gaming the legal aid system.”

    I think it is unfair for the media and the public to take that and extrapolate it to the whole country. That is incorrect. Most of the country is well served by lawyers accepting legally aided cases. Manakau is an issue. And a Palmerston North issue, apparently. Funny, as I said, Simon Power practised in Palmerston North!

    Interestingly, the middle part of the report has some very good and highly relevant criticism of the court process itself. There is a substantial criticism of the processes at court and the lack of services available to the defendants and their families in the system. While Dame Margaret’s views will be unpopular with most, I endorse them wholeheartedly. One of the most frustrating experiences is trying to get a client the assistance they need in a system that doesn’t want to know about them other than when they are going to plead guilty.

    Compared to the criticsim of the LSA and the Courts, the amount of criticism of the profession is relatively small. I am heartened by this, as most of us in the profession knew this to be the case.

    I am interested that Dame Margaret encourages the legal aid administrators to encourage lawyers to form groupings. You know, like a chambers or a firm, to mutually assist each other in keeping standards high. I have often advocated this within the Law Society, and that is one of the reasons I want the Law Society to go further in encouraging barristers sole and in the concept of ‘pupillage’, of Chambers taking on junior lawyers for the purpose of training them properly.

    I also like her recommendations re the duty solicitor scheme. I have some questions over the implementation of them, but overall they make sense.

    I think that her assessment re the renumeration rate is inadequate and a cop out. I am also sceptical of the concept of bulk funding, especially because I see it leading to encouraging short cuts in the provisoin of services. That doesn’t happen now, as Dame Margaret says “I have no doubt that many legal aid lawyers will run a case in the way that accords with
    their clients’ best interests”. I also wonder whether a senior lawyer will be willing to make themselves responsible for the bulk funding when they cannot really control the actions of those under them. In essence it appears to want to turn everybody into a firm of solicitors. I am not sure that will work anymore.

    Seriously, there is little enough criticism of the profession in this report. Most of it is aimed at the LSA and the Courts. What criticism there is merely repeats what legal aid providers have been saying about a minority of their colleagues. More importantly, when Dame Margaret says “The legal aid system needs to accommodate some of the costs involved for lead
    providers who supervise the training of junior lawyers”, then I can only say ‘Hear, Hear”!

    Finally, please all note the very important bit near the end:

    “As I have noted several times in the course of this report, the legal aid system is exposed to external factors and, at times, has very limited influence over them. There is one particular external factor that cannot be controlled by the legal aid system, and has a direct effect on defence costs: prosecution decisions. There appears to be an escalation cycle involving prosecution and defence lawyers. Prosecution decisions influence defence choices. Those decisions include charging practices, cooperation over discovery, and the use of expert witnesses and forensic evidence. For instance, if the
    prosecution chooses to use ten expert witnesses, the defence is likely to want to use ten of its own expert witnesses in order to counter the prosecution.”

    and

    “The decisions of prosecution and defence lawyers have a direct effect on legal aid expenditure. It would be unfair to try to curb this effect solely by addressing the defence side. As one submitter observed There is thus a major discrepancy between, on the one hand, public expenditure on Crown Law, (at “Rolls Royce” rates) with its lack of transparency, controls for accountability, and on the other hand, public expenditure on payment at the lowest level to listed providers, who are subject to minute scrutiny by the [Legal Services] Agency. Addressing just the defence side would also be ineffective, because it would leave other factors untouched that also affect prosecution choices. These other factors include the fact
    that we have multiple prosecuting bodies with multiple prosecution budgets. This makes it hard to identify total government expenditure on prosecution, and does not create incentives for efficiency in all Crown prosecutions, including financial decisions. Having multiple agencies with prosecution functions makes it difficult to get a uniform approach to the prosecution
    guidelines, and to training and court procedure.”

    In other words, the defence bar is, of necessity, reactive. If you have concerns about increasing amounts of criminal legal aid payments, one thing to do (as I and others have repeatedly said in the past) is to go and talk to the prosecuting agencies about their practices. More prosecutions means more money on defence. Simple.

    GPT has made some very good points above in his defence of the profession, and I agree with him completely, especially the sentiments in his entire comment at 5.50pm. This report isn’t the indictment of the defence bar that the MSM would like you all to see it as. It is a severe indictment on the LSA, and has a good amount of suggestions for the Courts as well.

    So, the reception of the report is a beat up, Wreck, but the report isn’t. If you haven’t already, go read it and you will see what I mean.

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  33. Tassman (234 comments) says:

    I was also concerned about the serious allegations from high profile people, and yet I haven’t come across any lawyers who admit such practice. If Dame Margaret has evidence then why not publish it to justify her claim? I think the media frenzy is a further move to reduce legal aid available to those who cannot afford legal representations in the cost cutting exercise this governmetn has unertaken since day one.

    Another high profile lawyer was saying that members of parliament also have legal aids available to them at three times the price of lawyers working for the ordinary folks. If so, then Mr. Power should clear his own backyard first before attempting at others.

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  34. Robert Black (423 comments) says:

    There is only one way to solve this problem.

    Take the tough stance.

    Fire those corrupt 200 lawyers!

    Of course, this view has nothing to do with the fact that I am my myself considering coming home to practise for a couple of years.

    But it would be amusing to be able to get a job as a lawyer over the internet.

    A bit like English teaching jobs in China.

    60 Grand? OK. Just fax me the contract.

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  35. Flashman (184 comments) says:

    Manukau lawyers – so bent the boot lids on their hatchbacks won’t close.

    But the Auckland Law Society will move swiftly to protect its own. Betcha.

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  36. tvb (4,328 comments) says:

    Dame Margaret has got the point that the decisions of Crown Prosecutors, who have commercial motivation, drive the complexity and length of criminal trials. Time and time again defence lawyers have said that if only they agreed to take a plea on this and that we could have shortened this trial considerably. I know of one Crown Prosecutor now a Judge who flatly refused to plea bargain at all. Consequently matters went to trial time and time again. It is instructive that Law Firm no longer has a jury warrant. So the system does make some changes but slowly.

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  37. F E Smith (3,304 comments) says:

    That is very true, tvb. I know that in my court area one of the registrars is keeping stats on her part of the court process. From speaking to her, a lot of delays are caused by police rather than by the defence lawyers or the clients. It is true, however, that all firms that hold the crown solicitor’s warrant do so for profit, not out of altruism.

    The entire court process is driven very much by the police and the number of people they charge. One thing that the UK has done is to introduce fixed penalty infringement notices for minor criminal offences. Things like offensive language, disorderly behaviour and the like are dealt with by way of a ticket, which avoids court, doesn’t result in a conviction and so removes the cost of court time. Perhaps that is a way to go here as well.

    Robert Black, that figure of 200 was a guess, but the media seized on it like vultures. I would put it less than that, given that only 800 lawyers to a criminal legal aid case in any one year. But, like GPT’s judge said, most of them would be in Manakau.

    Edit: Tassman: From what I hear, and also from my reading of the report, there is very little evidence available to Dame Margaret. Most the criticism of lawyers in the report is based on anecdotal evidence only. That, sadly, is more than enough for Minister Power.

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  38. Steriodman (6 comments) says:

    If people want to make large sums of money they should look at getting off there lazy bottoms and promoting them selves through proper private enterprise. Law must be simple and accessible to all. We are talking about the basis of social correction not how much an individual can profit from crime and corruption.

    Is the thinking on this is self serving? it does not appear to be in the best interests of the victim, the perpetrator or the society. The profit motive must be removed from law. There is nothing special about lawyers and with the exceptionally low standards due to unacceptable accountability this will not improve regardless of any patches.

    It feels like the role of the criminal and the victim is to justify the income and status of the legal profession.

    It must be remembered that the law and order profession will attract the largest number of criminals, just like the medical profession attracts the largest number of medical murders and the fire fighting profession attracts the largest number of arsonists. This is not the fault of the professions but it must be recognized and managed. Were are the standards of accountability ? Very easy money as far as I can see.

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  39. GPT1 (2,116 comments) says:

    am so concerned for my reputation as a lawyer that, today, just saying you accept legal aid cases is enough for all and sundry to automatically assume that I am corrupt, incompetent and taking the ’system’ for all it is worth.

    Very true FES. Such criticism would be easier to bear if one was living the life of riley on the back of the system but we all know that isn’t the case. Perhaps I should become an MOJ policy wonk and join the PSA?

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  40. GPT1 (2,116 comments) says:

    FES – I don’t agree with duty solicitors meeting with client’s days out. I believe that is what one calls an assignment. It also presupposes those charged with crimes are competent,organised and logical which we all know is the exception not the rule. With the right Judge in Chch and the registrars moving some of the bulk along you can, in the appropriate case, take a little bit of time to move the case along.

    I do agree with comments such as getting clerical staff to do LSA forms (have been saying that for years). The only bit that duty solicitors should fill out are the reasons for granting legal aid where an interests of justice matter arises.

    Stereoman – one of the recommendations is to remove the ability of lawyers to promote themselves by removing choice from clients. It takes a while but you end up getting referrals if you do a good job and clients asking for you by name. That would seem to be a good thing.

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  41. F E Smith (3,304 comments) says:

    GPT, don’t demean yourself- to become a policy wonk is far beneath you!

    There will be real issues with the duty solicitor ideas, especially the issue of having disclosure ready and at court days in advance of the court date for consultation. I just cannot see the police agreeing to that, nor being able to meet such a deadline. They have trouble enough now, let alone in an even tighter timeframe than the new disclosure act sets out.

    Steroidman: One point that Dame Margaret makes is that the rates are significantly lower than private practice because lawyers are doing this as a public service. We don’t have to do this and many hvae been voting with their feet in recent years and ceasing to do the work. I am afraid you have your argument backwards in your comment. On top of that, criminal defence work is, in my view, far more stressful than civil litigation simply because of the end results that are possible.

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  42. LUCY (359 comments) says:

    DPF said “I can’t imagine this report will just be filed somewhere to gather dust. Watch this space.” Well I will bet that it will go absolutly nowhere that it will go for ‘review’ and will then quietly fade away. $20 OK?

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  43. F E Smith (3,304 comments) says:

    I disagree, Lucy. From what I am told Simon Power has been wanting to do this from long before he got into government. I think he is just looking for the excuse to do it. What I don’t think he would have been expecting is the wholesale mauling that Dame Margaret gave the LSA in her report.

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  44. F E Smith (3,304 comments) says:

    Oh, how poetic! http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10612455

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  45. LUCY (359 comments) says:

    So you will take the bet FE Smith?

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  46. GPT1 (2,116 comments) says:

    Oh yes, disclosure. Good point FES. Last time I was duty sol I had 2 of 10 clients with disclosure available. A couple had lost it but the rest wasn’t ready. One was a likely guilty plea but given it was fairly serious (heaps of rubbish driving) and there was a hint, on instructions, of a double jeopardy with one of the charges I ended up having to kick it out for another two weeks. No doubt that is seen as defence lawyers wasting the Court’s time.

    I think all MPs should be required by law to have any legal matter dealt with by a legal aid lawyer on exactly the same terms and conditions as any other legal aid client. See how far they think access to justice is going then.

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  47. F E Smith (3,304 comments) says:

    Don’t see how I can, Lucy! But I will take it for an acknowledgement in these forums that the other was correct- shall we say by 1 July next year?

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  48. GPT1 (2,116 comments) says:

    As an aside on wasting resources I had a 17 year old who was charged with stealing $2 from his sister and had spent a night in the cells. Ridiculous.

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  49. LUCY (359 comments) says:

    Done! – FE Smith

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  50. F E Smith (3,304 comments) says:

    Good, good, Lucy! I have put it in my diary!!

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  51. kiwicraig (52 comments) says:

    Sigh. I don’t know what’s worse – the shoddy job the media are doing on reporting on Dame Margaret’s report, or the fact that I kind of expected that type of sensationalist headline-grabbing (while, once again, overlooking the bigger issues).

    The report eviscerates the LSA, addresses the problems caused the courts, and also addresses the “small” number of legal aid lawyers who are adding to those much larger systemic problems. The MSM of course jumps on the final, smaller, point – and splashes that everywhere, extrapolating innuendo and supposition – meaning the general public once again are left with little information about the real key issues with legal aid in this country. It seems the media, as much as Power, had made up their mind of what the story would be, prior to reading the report (if any of them actually read it).

    What’s worse, is that they’re feeding off each other – I noticed in the NZHerald today it was “200 or more” legal aid lawyers are CORRUPT. Earlier it was up to 200 (and that was a higher-end estimate) were flawed in a number of ways (e.g. incompetent, create issues etc), of which only a small number would actually be ‘CORRUPT’ – but now all those (perhaps over-estimated) numbers are rolled together into CORRUPT, which is of course a far more evocative, headline-grabbing word.

    Screw the truth. Screw the real issues. Sigh.

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  52. GPT1 (2,116 comments) says:

    Kiwicraig – I read a headline that said 100s of lawyers with the post script saying “up to several hundred lawyers” – I guess up to 200 almost jusitifies that headline but you have to wonder.

    Eviscerates. Ouch.

    The reality is that Dame Bazley has taken an educated guess based on, seemingly, hearsay that Manakau is poked and assumed that there must be some more rubbish lawyers outside of Manakau (and by definition you would expect that she would be right) and thought somewhere around 200 sounds about right.

    The other problem with the media attack and distortions is that the issue becomes about how bad the bad are rather than fixing the system for the majority. In fact it puts all lawyers on the defensive and actually makes it harder to weed out the chaff. Imagine getting shoulder tapped with a “must try harder” now. Bad enough at any time let alone now when it comes with the stigma of corruption.

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  53. alex Masterley (1,507 comments) says:

    GPT1 & FES.

    I can’t see what seeing a duty solicitor prior to the hearing date will achieve except becoming a defacto legal aid appointment. And no-one will meet with however they are told to see as there won’t be any form of compulsion.

    The only reason people turn up to court when summonsed is that if they don’t they will have a warrant issued and will be arrested if they don’t.

    Additionaly when I did duty solicitor work, happily several life times ago, I found that the customers had invariably lost, destroyed, mutilated or forgotten their summons. God knows what they would do to disclosure material they would receive.

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  54. F E Smith (3,304 comments) says:

    Nothing has changed, Alex, but for some reason those people who have no knowledge of how the system really works or just what it is like to work in it get appointed to make recommendations on it.

    The advantage for the government in having duty solicitors available early is that the administrative body for legal aid does not then have to make an assignment, thus saving on admin costs. Plus duty solicitors are paid at a lower rate than assigned work.

    But the clients still cannot seem to retain paperwork longer than a few minutes. The Police love it, because they now make initial disclosure to the client rather than the lawyer, and when the lawyer says to the officer in charge that they have not got disclosure for whatever reason the police can refuse to provide new copies. Some lawyers have had to revert to asking the judges to order the police to provide the disclosure as a result.

    Kiwicraig: well said, mate. Hopefully you can write something about the actual content of the report!

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  55. alex Masterley (1,507 comments) says:

    FES,

    The author of the report proves the axiom that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

    And people complain about lawyers gaming the system!

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  56. XChequer (298 comments) says:

    Great posts, FES.

    Well thought out and reasoned arguments with solid clear writing. Almost like a brief.

    XChequer

    P.S Have you considered a career in law at all? You would be good.

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  57. GPT1 (2,116 comments) says:

    Alex agreed. As an aside the Criminal Disclosure Act and the Get Rid of Deps Act were written by policy wonks in the MOJ who, seemingly, have never been inside a real court room and have the fatal flaw (probably more than one) of believing that the punters act rationally. So we go from the police providing some semblance of disclosure on the file for a duty or counsel to envelopes being thrown at clients by OCs who then tick the disclosure box and wonder why six weeks later a simple case remains unresolved. Punter loses disclosure, lawyer refuses to deal with the matter without, at least, a summary and basically more time is wasted for the sake of sticking some paper on a file.

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  58. Rex Widerstrom (5,349 comments) says:

    GPT1 says:

    As an aside on wasting resources I had a 17 year old who was charged with stealing $2 from his sister and had spent a night in the cells. Ridiculous.

    I’ll see you that (since we seem to be in a betting mood today ;-) ) and raise you a 12 year old arrested and charged for receiving (yes, not stealing, but receiving) a chocolate “Freddo frog” worth 70 cents.

    The WA Police ran a concerted PR effort, aided of course by the media, to the effect that this was “the tip of the iceberg”. Of course no journo thought to ask that, if that was the most serious charge, what were the rest of his “crimes”? Jaywalking? Littering?

    Eventually a judge hauled them into line and they were even forced to pay costs of $1,000 – but of course they (and their friends in the media) were muttering about “lawless youth” for days afterward.

    GPT1, FES and any other lawyers reading this:

    Please don’t abandon legal aid work. I’d always had some appreciation of NZ legal aid lawyers’ efforts but it wasn’t till I came to Australia that I completely realised the calibre of lawyers NZ is fortunate to have still accepting legal aid work.

    Take my own case. Having been dragged across 4 time zones and kept awake all night due to police refusing to turn off the light, a man in a suit strides into my cell, looks me up and down and says, with venom fair dripping from his voice, “People like you can expect to get seven years!”. “Are you the prosecutor?” I asked. “The officer in charge of the inquiry?” “No, I’m your lawyer,” he said in a tone I reserve for when I’ve stepped in something.

    He was later reprimanded by a judge (in another case – I eventually managed to sack him) for having come to court “with your mind made up that your client is guilty, and determined to assist the prosecutor to demonstrate it”.

    I’m sure some of the public may not hold you in high regard. Aside from sheer ignorance, the one uniting factor amongst them would be that they’ve never been sucked into the vortex of the “justice” system. There are, however, a large but generally silent group who know precisely what it is you do and why it is you do it, and that any words of thanks, awards or even cash you could be offered still wouldn’t come close to acknowledging your value.

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  59. Steriodman (6 comments) says:

    I would like to see a general improvement in the standards. It is clear that people are very disappointed in the behavior or some lawyers. The legal profession is of cause the profession that has the greatest ability to legally protect itself.
    It is also a profession that should be able to understand all aspects of crime.

    If there was proper accountability then there would be less crime. Accountability would raise the standards and lawyers would feel more confident dealing with each other and get greater respect from the public.

    What is the level of accountability? I hear some talk that perhaps the 200 dishonest lawyers should be dismissed for stealing from the state. Perhaps it is a political move to lower the cost of legal aid but of cause the vulnerability had to be there first to be use.

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  60. tvb (4,328 comments) says:

    Seeing duty solicitor prior to the Court appearance is pointless. There are just too many bits missing to provide meaningful advice. You need the charge, and the disclosure. Just how is that going to be arranged for this preappearance stuff. Plus there is bail issues to be sorted. Better to do it on the day, and get a remand if something needs sorting. Typically this might involve getting organised for a period of disqualification if it is going to cause hardship. I am rather dismayed how Dame Margaret was able to form the 200 corrupt lawyer conclusion from purely anecdotal evidence and hearsay. I find that breathtaking and amounts to a “white collar” lynching on her part. I would be real fun indeed to place her in a dock, swear an oath and test the assertion.

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  61. Political Busker (231 comments) says:

    I haven’t read the report but at some stage must where it is a large and evidential part of the facts underlining the need to review the entire NZ justice system and that such anomalies in the system prove that the public interest any many areas has been in considerable neglect with no authority rightfully and responsibly prosecuting their responsibilities in self regulation.

    http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/national/ckpt/2009/11/27/law_society_reaction_to_dame_margarets_report

    For example, here is correspondence started with a letter from me to John Marshall and a reply from the Law Society that erodes any possible confidence I have in the Standards Committee dealing with old problems so protecting any existing corruption in their fold:

    Tena koe Mary Wilson,

    in the interview you held with John Marshall, Mr Marshall defended the integrity of the Law Society. Yet in this reply to my correspondence, I believe I legitimately contest that confidence.

    I note I am in advanced court proceedings against Radio New Zealand National, where a Family Court lawyer appears robustly protected to engage invited opinions that are gender discriminatory where the jurisdiction of the Family Court is defended by the Ministry of Justice as being gender neutral.

    How does Checkpoint respond to this matter where a controversy is established for an interview where an invited guest can be fairly challenged for making a claim that is contestable and then on test be found to neglect the point of controversy for which they were formally invited onto the radio programme to defend?

    I await your reply with interest.

    Respectfully,
    Benjamin Easton
    LAOS New Zealand

    ____________________________________________

    Thank you for your reply Malcolm but you have completely dismissed and abrogated the point of my email.

    The interview held between Mary Wilson and John Marshall assured confidence in a robust Standards Committee. What I am saying to you is this is simply not true and the evidence is accessible for anyone to view if those who would take a responsibility so to do would investigate. Surely under the principle of ‘self regulation’ the first body I should approach would be the Law Society.

    I am advising you that the LCRO modified a decision of the committee.

    1. The Committee met and processed the complaint on the same day they received it, returning a rejection at the same time as issuing an inquiry of the lawyer under complaint.

    2. The Committee called it a ‘Fee Complaint’ where quite clearly it was a “Conduct Complaint’.

    3. The Committee did not read the complaint and returned it to the Family Court where it was about an action prior to the Family Court being used.

    4. The Committee stated that it sent me the letter from the lawyer but it never did and this letter only emerged after significant frustration and inquiry on my part because it was ‘critical evidence’ for the substantive matter.

    How is your answer to me not an exact repeat of what the Committee did where you fail to recognise the nature of my inquiry? It has ‘nothing to do with the substantive matter’. It has ‘everything to do with the Committee’s integrity’. Your reply is just as shocking to me as when I received the original reply from the Committee. You simply have ‘no idea’ what I wrote or you are otherwise obfuscating the Law Society’s responsibility.

    My personal claim against the Committee and why they acted in this way was because they realised that I was the principal behind the complaint. I say this because they did the same make over job on another complaint I processed on a lawyer appointed to assist the Court. He stole evidence. The Lay Observer, in I presume the last decision before the Lawyers And Conveyancers Act 2006, agreed that if this occurred it would be of significant concern for the party that I advocated on behalf of. Well it was of significant concern. But nothing happened and B**** A**** not only got protected by your standards committee but also the Court.

    Please do not patronise me with your answers. You have every responsibility to inquire on the two matters I have raised.

    Respectfully,
    Benjamin Easton
    LAOS New Zealand

    _________________________________________

    Hello Mr Easton,

    The Standards Committee has given it’s decision in this matter. The decision was reviewed by the Lawyers Complaints Review Office. That process is a statutory process between the parties and it is not appropriate for the Society to comment on the merits of the case.

    Malcolm Ellis
    Complaints Service
    New Zealand Law Society

    ________________________________

    Tena koe John Marshall,

    (President Law Society)

    I refer to your interview with Mary Wilson on Checkpoint RNZ National on Friday 27 November.

    http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/national/ckpt/2009/11/27/law_society_reaction_to_dame_margarets_report

    I wish to draw your attention to a most serious problem that occurred with your Manawatu Standards Committee from the very first Legal Complaints Review Officer mediation. The faulted standard of the committee was recognised by the Officer and the decision made by the committee modified. I am presently struggling with the High Court at Palmerston North registrar attempting to get these matters before the Court. The file is entitled Eason v Family Court.

    Yet there was no redress or any investigation as to the nature of the committee’s behaviour and inadequacy when processing the complaint. They seriously abrogated natural justice and have individually shamed the function of New Zealand’s legal self regulation and its monitoring. I will make these facts available on your return inquiry.

    The Law Society, nor the Ministry of Justice can say they are not aware of what I am talking about. Bronwyn Jones can advise you. The various administrations including the media are more conveniently prepared to successfully ignore the information I have presented and prosecuted. The serious problems that exist in family law in the Manawatu don’t seem to matter to its administrators.

    Without my complaints fully and responsibly investigated cleaning out the shockingly poor behaviours of family law administrators the damage being done to the father (one of an uncountable number) in question and his son is reprehensible and disgraceful.

    I do not have time for the moment to compile my complaint into a greater or more understandable form but advise that you should review the papers relative to the LCRO 01/08 decision of L v D, and then get back to me.

    Respectfully,
    Benjamin Easton
    LAOS New Zealand

    __________________________________________

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  62. GPT1 (2,116 comments) says:

    Rex – the mind boggles. Receiving a freddo. Dear oh dear. As an exasperated Judge recently noted in Chch – ‘what has happened to police discretion? The caution? Not every supposed crime has to come before the court.’ I paraphrase of course but you get the point.

    tvb – you are quite right. In fact I have a policy of never seeing a potential criminal client until I have disclosure. Used to work well until the new Act. Sigh.

    It shows a fundamental mis-understanding (is that a word) of what a duty solicitor actually does.

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  63. Political Busker (231 comments) says:

    @tvb

    “I am rather dismayed how Dame Margaret was able to form the 200 corrupt lawyer conclusion from purely anecdotal evidence and hearsay.”

    How much of this information comes from the court staff – and if considerable what does it say about the size of the overall problem in relation to present strike action where court staff are paid 6.3% less by average than other PSA employees?

    If it is ‘white collar’ and wrong information, then this source of information must have need of remedy as much as the substantive inquiry is justified requiring investigation.

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  64. tarrant (35 comments) says:

    As a duty solicitor, I agree with the commentators above that getting people to see a duty solicitor BEFORE their first appearance is a laughable recommendation. It would be totally impractical and unworkable. Any duty solicitor would have told her that. The fact she even made such a ludicrous suggestion is proof that she clearly didn’t speak to any duty solicitors – or did not listen to them. If that was the best the report writer could come up with as a suggestion to “enhance” the duty solicitor scheme, I am deeply concerned for the quality of her research in other areas.

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  65. Political Busker (231 comments) says:

    @tarrant – as duty solicitor for crimes such as ‘DIC’ do you believe a weight could be taken out of the court not requiring a first court appearance where the individual charged is sent a card with guilt or innocent options to send in reply along with the appropriate payment or payment option agreed?

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  66. F E Smith (3,304 comments) says:

    Political Busker- your suggestion at 9.55pm is already in place and being used by the Justice Ministry. However, it can only be used for offences where imprisonment is not an option. For EBA (that is, driving with Excess Blood Alcohol, which is the NZ term for drunk driving) even the first offence carries a chance of imprisonment so you could not deal with it in that fashion.

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  67. BJAP (1 comment) says:

    GPT, with all this talk of “Light reward” and “rate cuts from the 90’s”, we’d think times were tough for the legal-aid lawyers performing their service to the public.

    But there are obviously still a fair few crumbs and bones lying around for those with the nose to smell them out – a roll call of payments by the LSA to the top dogs from your neck of the woods in the year July 08 to June 09 shows the cupboards can’t be bare just yet-

    A N GARRETT – BARRISTER CHRISTCHURCH $251,402.97
    A S GREIG – BARRISTER CHRISTCHURCH $184,935.95
    ANGELA GRANT – BARRISTER CHRISTCHURCH $145,832.07
    BRIDGET N AYREY CHRISTCHURCH $147,448.03
    C M RUANE – BARRISTER CHRISTCHURCH $111,482.89
    CHERRY KANNANGARA CHRISTCHURCH $364,885.56
    DAVID BUNCE CHRISTCHURCH $285,961.13
    DAVID RUTH – BARRISTER CHRISTCHURCH $145,426.00
    DENISE JOHNSTON – BARRISTER CHRISTCHURCH $112,641.04
    ELIZABETH BULGER – BARRISTER CHRISTCHURCH $153,881.93
    G A HAY CHRISTCHURCH $144,510.11
    G LASCELLES CHRISTCHURCH $123,216.07
    JONATHAN EATON CHRISTCHURCH $164,551.59
    K H COOK – BARRISTER CHRISTCHURCH $199,666.97
    KATHRYN VESTY – BARRISTER & SOLICITOR CHRISTCHURCH $176,954.05
    LEE LEE HEAH – BARRISTER CHRISTCHURCH $155,208.99
    MARGARET SEWELL – BARRISTER CHRISTCHURCH $254,877.58
    MARK CALLAGHAN – BARRISTER CHRISTCHURCH $305,884.50
    MICHAEL STARLING – BARRISTER CHRISTCHURCH $271,133.01
    MOANA M COLE – BARRISTER CHRISTCHURCH $113,043.52
    P H B HALL – BARRISTER CHRISTCHURCH $321,683.81
    P J BUTLER – BARRISTER CHRISTCHURCH $100,501.99
    PHILLIP N ALLAN – BARRISTER CHRISTCHURCH $147,621.22
    RUPERT GLOVER – BARRISTER CHRISTCHURCH $189,931.71
    SERINA BAILEY – BARRISTER CHRISTCHURCH $293,158.38
    STEPHEN HEMBROW – BARRISTER CHRISTCHURCH $143,683.17
    T STEVENS CHRISTCHURCH $103,818.82

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  68. Steriodman (6 comments) says:

    Congratulations to all those who have been aided by the legal profession.

    To those that still wait for accountability hopefully it is on its way.

    The truth is always in the evidence, regardless of how one wants to frame the view.

    It is only a matter of looking at the evidence.

    Hopefully enough people will look through the wall of silence this time and see the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

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  69. F E Smith (3,304 comments) says:

    BJAP, please do not misconstrue gross figures, GST inclusive, for personal income. Those figures are what the business earned, not those people. Out of that comes expenses, employees, expert witnesses, junior counsel, GST, tax and so on.

    The real personal income is a lot less than the gross figures you see. You appear to have mistaken turnover for profit.

    All of those lawyers, like most legal aid lawyers, work incredibly hard in a very stressful job. GPT is correct when he says the rates are very low- they are generally one third those of private work.

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