Legal Aid services continue with some changes to processes

Legal Aid sets continuity plans in response to COVID-19 alert levels

Legal Aid services continue with some changes to processes

Legal Aid services are to continue with changes to some processes to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, Legal Services Commissioner Brett Dooley announced.

In a statement to legal aid providers across New Zealand, the commissioner outlined some modifications to procedures after the nation’s coronavirus alert level was increased this week to level 4. Adjusted processes included the signing of legal aid forms, approvals and audits, as well as the temporary suspension of current complaint investigations.

“We are working hard to set in place continuity plans that will allow us to keep functioning and support the essential services that have been agreed by the judiciary,” Dooley said.

Until further notice, a legal aid provider may now sign legal aid application forms on a client’s behalf if it is not feasible for the applicant to do so in person. Furthermore, with the present priority of courts being custody matters and with jury trials suspended, Legal Services is coordinating with the Public Defence Service to limit assignments to the courts and to duty lawyers in order to soften the financial blow to providers.

To speed up court reassignments, providers are requested to email their respective legal aid offices on Mondays with their free schedules for the week in question. Providers who need urgent Legal Aid approval to act in certain cases can also apply for limited approvals under specific conditions: i.e., the provider is acting or has acted in a related proceeding; they have “relevant specialist knowledge and skills”; and there are not enough providers in the area with the required skill and experience to act in a particular case.

Providers who have already applied for lead legal aid approval are to be contacted directly regarding the new expected assessment timeframe, while those who have not submitted applications are being asked to hold them for the foreseeable future. Current provider contracts and approvals that are set to expire in the near future will now be extended until June 2021.

In recognition of advice regarding domestic travel and social distancing, the ministry has also temporarily ceased audits of contracted service providers as well, and will be reaching out only to those already under audit.

“Although audits are an important means of ensuring the quality of the ministry’s contracted services, they have not been confirmed as critical. Legal Aid Services recognises that its providers in the community are themselves responding to these unprecedented events we are in and that it would be inappropriate to continue with the current audit programme at this time,” Dooley said.

The ministry will continue to release more information as it works through its continuity plan.

Recent articles & video

AI won’t replace lawyers; rather, lawyers using AI will

Employment Court reveals case processing, management changes

Wynn Williams welcomes new senior associates, associates in promotions round

NZ Asian Lawyers sets up panel to support courts

Court of Appeal sets aside compensation for over-detained person due to judicial immunity

Resolution Life picks up Asteron Life with Chapman Tripp's help

Most Read Articles

Denham Bramwell's new partners on contributing to the firm’s leadership

Auckland lawyer slapped with $22,000 fine for blunder on client's will

MinterEllisonRuddWatts workshop series: Health and Safety in New Zealand

Buddle Findlay welcomes Christchurch office team lead to board