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Six Legal Aid Offices to be Closed

September 22, 2016 at 4:43 PM

Six Legal aid offices to be closed

*From the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse*

The Ministry of Justice has announced it will close 6 of the 8 legal aid offices in 2017.

The announcement said that operations will be based in Wellington and Auckland (Takapuna). Offices will be closed in Waitakere, Napier, Christchurch, Manukau, New Plymouth and Rotorua. 

Legal Aid Services General Manager Jacquelyn Shannon said "We are doing this to improve the way we work. Consolidating operations is more efficient and ensures a more consistent national service."

The new structure is scheduled to be in place in October 2016 with offices starting to close in January 2017. The Ministry of Justice has provided a one page overview of the changes.

Ms Shannon said "Our experience is that the vast majority of the 80,000 legal aid applicants per annum who interact with legal aid granting officers do so by email or over the telephone."

However, Criminal Bar Association President Noel Sainsbury criticised the decision saying "The advantage of these local offices, is they get to know the local lawyers. They know how to get hold of them or if there's an urgent assignment, say someone needs to get a bail application heard and they need a lawyer appointed, they know the people to ring and speak to and that detailed knowledge is incredibly important."

The Law Society's Legal Services Committee Convenor Liz Bulger said it would damage the relationships between legal aid lawyers and local communities: "That potential for face-to-face meeting, or at least being able to get someone on the phone that you know if you're doing it by phone or by email, is really important" and "The centralisation means that all of those relationships and all of that goodwill and knowledge is gone in an instant." Ms Bulger also said the Ministry did not consult with the Law Society or the legal sector.

Green Party Justice Spokesperson David Clendon has raised concerns about reducing legal services saying that “Regions facing closures are already feeling the strain of an underfunded system. Christchurch, for example, has experienced some of the biggest drops in legal aid lawyers among all the regions." He also said that “Legal aid applications are up, but the number of lawyers who are able and sufficiently experienced to provide quality advice for civil, mental health, family and refugee claims are dropping."

Agencies working to address family and sexual violence have previously raised concerns about victims' access to legal services and the negative impact of the recent law reforms. See the previous NZFVC stories for more information:

Justice Minister Amy Adams has recently confirmed that a review of the Family Court law reforms is scheduled to begin in 2017.

Category: Community Notices