Legal aid lawyers declining significantly

The number of lawyers willing to take on legal aid cases is significantly declining, a new report has revealed.

Fewer lawyers are willing to do legal aid, a report by the Law Society has found.

The number of lawyers willing to take on civil law cases under legal aid arrangement has dropped by 54% over the past five years.  The number of lawyers willing to take on family law cases dropped by 25% and the number of lawyers taking on criminal cases, dropped by 12%.

The Law Society warned that the plummeting number of lawyers willing to do legal aid could have a significant impact on New Zealand’s access to justice, the report finding that there was a decline in the number of lawyers prepared to do mental health and refugee cases.

“The availability of lawyers dictates the access to justice for people who might be in need of legal aid,” Liz Bolger of the Law Society told Radio NZ.
“If there are fewer providers, then the providers remaining are going to be much busier and less accessible as time goes on.”

Christchurch lawyer Allister Davis said that many lawyers simply can’t afford to work under legal aid arrangements.

“You get $215 plus GST for administration, and you get $75 for the case management memorandum,” he said.

“You then get $180 for a trial which could last for one hour or could last a day.

“And then you get $100 for sentencing.  Ultimately that is just over $500.”

Associate Justice Minister Simon Bridges boosted New Zealand’s legal aid budget by $96m over four years, but Bolger said while the extra money has solved some problems, there is more to it than just funding.

“Legal aid is often difficult to manage,” she said.

“There is a lot of correspondence involved, there can be a lot of coming and going with the ministry in terms of amendments to grants, or questions which are asked about particular issues, or disbursements to experts.  It all takes time.”

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