Under the 2022 budget, legal aid lawyers' hourly rates will increase by 12% beginning 1 July
The New Zealand government has allotted additional funds in the 2022 national budget to improve the legal aid system across New Zealand, Minister of Justice Kris Faafoi announced.
He explained that the 2022 budget contains an additional investment of $148m over the next four years to ensure people will not be denied access to justice based on their financial means, given that legal aid plays a crucial role in ensuring equity in the justice system.
“Budget 2022 will help around 93,000 more people be eligible for legal aid from January 2023, fulfilling our election promise to make improvements to our court system so everyone has appropriate access to justice,” Faafoi said.
In addition, the 2022 budget will implement changes to policies governing eligibility, repayment and legal aid lawyers’ remuneration to ensure that the legal aid system remains resilient in the future. It will also increase the hourly rates of over 2,400 legal aid lawyers by 12% beginning 1 July.
“This will mean more people will be able to access the scheme and get legal advice, ensuring the ongoing viability of the legal aid system,” Faafoi said.
Moreover, he confirmed that the 2022 budget provides additional funding of $41.4m over the next four years to cover the costs of increased demand for legal aid services based on projections covering the 2024-2025 period. Funds worth $34.5m would be applied to address the impact of case backlogs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is the most effective way to make sure the courts that saw an increase in active cases due to COVID-19 can reduce these caseloads to pre-COVID-19 levels,” said Minister for Courts Aupito William Sio.
To help expedite court processes, Faafoi said that the 2022 budget sets aside another $11m over the next four years to implement the Criminal Process Improvement Programme (CPIP), a judicially led initiative to reduce backlog in the criminal jurisdiction of the District Court by establishing best practice in court procedure.
“CPIP is also critical to implementing Te Ao Mārama, the new model for the District Court, ensuring the system has the capacity to embed transformational change,” he said.