Access to Justice in New Zealand is a major problem with as many as 20,000 people have been denied legal representation by legal aid according to a report published by the New Zealand Law Society.
The report’s findings followed the largest survey ever undertaken on New Zealand’s legal profession, identifying the major issue of legal aid being a loan, thus providing a prohibitive limitation for many seeking legal aid.
The Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Conduct and Client Care) Rules 2008 require that lawyers do not refuse to accept instructions from prospective clients unless certain exceptions apply, one of which is if the lawyer has a lack of available time for the instructions, which is regularly relied upon. In the past year alone, 50 percent of lawyers and 75 percent of legal aid lawyers have had to refuse instructions from prospective clients.
President of the NZLS, Tiana Epati, attributed the access to legal aid issues to the low volume of legal aid lawyers in the country with only 2,000 legal aid lawyers actively undertake such work.
The number of legal aid lawyers decreased with the advent of COVID-19. Increasing the number of legal aid lawyers will be challenging given 49 percent of the hours lawyers work on a legal aid case are not remunerated, according to the report, and the administrative process to a lawyer becoming approved to provide legal aid services has become a barrier.
Aotearoa New Zealand’s legal aid system is collapsing…vulnerable people who cannot afford lawyers and seek legal aid, are not getting it because the number of lawyers undertaking legal aid has diminished. Legal aid lawyers are unable to cope with demand, are too poorly paid to deal with the complex cases they have, so they quit the legal aid system.
She implored the government to immediately address the access to justice issues detailed in the report.