A legal aid solicitor described it as ‘a kick in the teeth’ that only a fraction of the work will increase the cost. Justice Minister Kiri Allan says he is reviewing the system. Image / NZME
REVIEW: In June this year, former Justice Minister Kris Faafoi announced a further investment of $148 million over four years in New Zealand’s legal system, which will see 93,000 more people join. to legal aid from January.
Legal aid lawyers around the world were happy, I think.
Faafoi promised a 12 percent increase for 2,400 legal aid lawyers in hourly rates starting July 1, 2022, saying enrollment for the program was too old, but their pay remained stable. hours for legal aid lawyers since 2008.
“Budget 2022 will update legal aid policy provisions related to the recruitment, hiring, and compensation of legal aid attorneys to improve access to justice, and ensure the sustainability of the legal aid program law for the future,” he said.
A month later, following a change of guard, new Justice Minister Kiri Allan approved a 12 percent increase in the hourly rate of legal aid lawyers effective July 1.
But that 12 percent increase affects 8 percent of legal aid jobs.
Thanks to information gathered from an Official Information Act request, the 12 percent increase appears to be a drop in the bucket for most legal aid jobs.
For example, of the total of 264,137 criminal grants applied for over the past five years, 235,718 of those grants were fixed wages and only 28,419 were for hourly rates.
This means that most legal aid work is done on a fixed fee basis and only 8 percent of the work is on an hourly basis.
Breaking this down further, the total number of criminal applications made in 2017/2018 was 48,503.
Of those, 3770 were on hourly rates and 44,733 were on fixed wages.
In the 2020/2021 period, 49,481 criminal banks applied for loans. A total of 9,637 allowances included hourly rates and 39,844 for fixed wages.
National service delivery group director Tracey Baguley confirmed most legal aid cases were due to fixed fees.
What I have heard is that the actual costs of hearing and waiting time have increased by 12 percent from 3 October 2022 to match the hourly rate change, he said.
Lawyers will also receive compensation for claims made between 1 July 2022 and 2 October 2022.
An issue here is the listening and waiting times, which are included in the fixed cost totals and, again, are a fraction of the actual cost performance.
For context, court time does not apply to the requirement to attend, whether it is taking instructions from the client, preparing documents and submitting submissions, meeting with the client, attending the prison.
It’s like five minutes of giving a speech at Toastmasters – five minutes in the spotlight is important, but there’s no mention of the hundred or more hours spent writing that speech and preparing it. .
A legal aid lawyer I spoke to said they were initially relieved when the increases were announced, but disappointed when the reality of the Government’s action became clear.
“It’s a kick in the teeth to know that only a fraction of our operations will see any kind of price increase. If the Government wants to prevent a shortage of legal aid lawyers it needs to do more, especially in the face of rising wages and rising costs of living. At the very least it needs to emphasize its content and increase the fixed costs.
Minister Allan refused to respond to my claim that the Government’s promises to change the state of the underfunded legal aid system were untrue.
However, Allan said he was continuing to review the legal aid system and consider what steps should be taken.
User fees for civil and family legal aid still apply
In a July announcement, Allan said the legal aid user fee – paid by most civil and family legal aid recipients – should be deducted, as well as the interest on the repayment free legal debt, etc.
No time frame has been given for when the legal aid user fee will be withdrawn.
According to the Official Information Act document, these changes will take effect on January 1, 2023.
CPIP’s persistent incentives remain intact
Come back to June, and Faafoi will be talking big about the wonders of the Criminal Justice Improvement Program (CPIP).
“The CPIP was put together to reduce the pressure and burden of work in the criminal jurisdiction of the District Court by establishing effective procedures to help cases be resolved quickly and with fewer court sessions.
“Effectiveness of all aspects of the court will reduce delays that waste the time and resources of the court, as well as those of all the participants in the court – the accused, the complainants, victims, witnesses and their families,” said Faafoi.
“The purpose of the program is to address the causes of crime, improve access to justice, and support victims to stay safe.”
Alas, it has recently come to light that a new CPIP policy means employment lawyers will have to pay more if their clients sue on their first visit to court.
On top of the $98 hourly fee for attending court on weekdays, labor lawyers can earn $70 for helping a defendant make a plea and $120 for helping the customer to join the plea will be punished on the same day (or take the costs. ). Criminal charges lead to punishment.
The fees are part of a revised solicitors policy being trialled in Hamilton, Hutt Valley and Christchurch district courts, Allan said.
Allan told me that he made it clear that he was concerned about the pilot who might have encouraged the guilty pleas.
“I have always asked for information about the pilot and the termination. Although the idea behind the pilot – to reduce the high lift rates that contribute to the delay, therefore affecting the victims, to offenders, witnesses and families – well-intentioned, intrusive, and poorly designed policy.
The policy is a small part of the broader CPIP program, which is ongoing, and aims to reduce the number of delays in court, according to Allan.
Legal Services Commissioner Tracey Baguley authorized a review of the policy.