The association says that the provision in the 2020 budget is “a significant milestone for access to justice”
The New Zealand Bar Association (NZBA) has praised the allocation of government funding for the establishment of a pro bono clearing house (PBCH).
The New Zealand government’s 2020 budget will provide $7.72m over a period of four years to Community Law Centres o Aotearoa to aid in the delivery of legal services amidst rising demand. By setting up a PBCH model, lawyers offering pro-bono services can be matched up with those who need free legal assistance, improving access to legal aid.
The association said that this is “a significant milestone for access to justice,” as this is the first time the government has allocated this type of funding.
“We now can follow the lead of other Commonwealth countries, which already have similar schemes operating,” the NZBA said.
In September 2018, the association had called for the establishment of a PBCH model to support community law in its Ahui ki te Ture, Access to Justice report. The NZBA said that the implementation of this model across the country is now more crucial than ever in the current climate.
“The need for this is likely to be even greater and more urgent in the next 12 months, given the impact of COVID-19 on employment, housing, debt, family, immigration, mental health and a range of other social issues. These matters will all inevitably overlap with legal issues and many will not be able to afford legal advice or will struggle to meet legal aid criteria,” the association said.
“We look forward to barristers being able to offer their pro bono time much more effectively, through the pro bono clearing house model in the coming months,” the NZBA said.
Nonetheless, the association does not see the PBCH model as being a replacement for a properly supported legal aid system.
“While we are very pleased to see this development, we caution that this must not be seen as a substitute for a fully funded legal aid system. The income thresholds to qualify for legal aid in our current system are unrealistic, and need urgent attention,” said Maria Dew QC, the chair of NZBA Access to Justice.
In addition to the establishment of a PBCH model, funds will also go to improving the case management system of community law centres.