Editorials on Legal Aid

Three editorials today on the review. First the ODT:

Even by her own straight-shooting standards, Dame came out with all guns blazing in her Legal Aid Review Report. …

The review, by any measure, is a stunning indictment of the legal profession.

Dame Margaret is one of the country’s top public servants, a former head of the Department of Social Welfare, and is no stranger to conducting such reviews.

Her inquiry of police conduct following the Louise Nicholas furore was similarly hard-hitting, if not quite so unconstrained in its vocabulary.

So it must be held that, as dramatic as it is, her choice of language is deliberate and reflects the gravity of the situation as she sees it.

What I find hilarious is Labour coming out saying how shocked they are, and demanding the Government act. These problems are not new.

The Herald says:

Last Friday, Dame Margaret Bazley produced her damning report on criminal legal aid. By Monday Justice Minister Simon Power had obtained the resignations of most of the administering board, the Legal Services Agency, and the Government decided that day to shut it down. We are not used to such dispatch.

Indeed. What happened to the days of reports gathering dust on book shelves? Simon Power is no ditherer.

And the Dom Post:

Dame Margaret’s report is remarkable for its language – reminiscent of her blunt 450-page report into police conduct, in 2007 – and implicit dismay that a system formed to assist the most vulnerable is operating so poorly, and being manipulated by colluding defendants and legal-aid lawyers. It is littered with references to “widespread abuse”, “taking backhanders”, “entrenched” positions, “poor relationships” and even, “should be disbarred”.

Government reports tend to be diplomatic in their language. The comments are remarkable. It is unfortunate that the wrong doers are spoiling it for the vast majority of legal aid lawyers who are responsible, and in fact take a pay cut when doing legal aid work. One of the solutions may be to pay more per hour for legal aid work, so it doesn’t attract the “bottom of the barrel” so to speak.

When this public servant – the term suits her so well – finally chooses to retire, she can do so knowing the profound effect she has had on the ethics of important parts of New Zealand life. She helped bring compassion to psychiatric hospitals, she redirected the efforts of social welfare agencies to work with entire families, she reformed the unionised nonsense that was the NZ Fire Service, and then administered a hefty kick to the New Zealand Police.

She might be hoping now, however, that she doesn’t need a legally aided defence lawyer in a hurry …

Heh indeed.

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