Experts are urging barristers to become more engaged, as well as calling for greater support for Legal Aid, as a new report pinpoints four key areas to focus on to improve access to justice in New Zealand.
The call came from authors of the “Access to Justice” report of the New Zealand Bar Association (NZBA), who said they found an increase in the number of people who can’t afford lawyers, as well as people representing themselves who are potentially disadvantaged because of lack of knowledge.
The NZBA recommends improvements to the legal aid system. It also recommended finding ways in which free or subsidised legal services could be provided. Improvements can also be made by finding out the best use of court time, as well as by reviewing the way lawyers charge for their services.
The report was released by the association in its annual conference held in Rotorua on Friday and Saturday.
“It is not enough for us as lawyers to make comment on the issue; we need to come up with actions, not just words. We need to be an active part of the solution,” said NZBA President Clive Elliott.
Legal Aid is failing as a large portion of the population does not qualify for legal aid. People with an income of $23,820 do not qualify but also are unable to pay for legal services, he said.
“In addition, it is the view of the NZ Bar Association that there are fewer lawyers making themselves available for Legal Aid work because of a drop in the funding available,” he said.
A working group from across the profession should be established to champion Legal Aid reform, which includes more funding, the report said.
“Community Law Centres are an important access point to justice for many in our community, and there is no doubt that there is an opportunity for New Zealand barristers to give these Community Law Centres greater support with legal services,” said Maria Dew, one of the authors of the report.
Simon Foote, a fellow Auckland lawyer who also co-authored the report, suggested a more effective way to identify pro bono and low bono work.
“Currently a significant amount of time can be spent by individual barristers assessing the most suitable pro bono and low bono work that could be taken on. A better way of identifying these cases and matching them with the right barrister, through community law centres or some form of clearing house, could give very tangible benefits,” he said.