LawFuel.co.nz – Legal Jobs & News Service – Transforming the Legal Aid System- Final Report and Recommendations – Bazley Report
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27 November 2009 – Transforming the Legal Aid System
The legal aid system is essential to the operation of the justice system: its effect extends beyond the individual who is represented by a legal aid lawyer. The legal aid system’s operation can help the courts run smoothly, or it can bring the court system to a halt. The range and mix of services, and delivery method, can help people to resolve their problems, or can perpetuate social exclusion.
The legal aid system can no longer focus solely on legal representation one case at a time. It needs to focus on helping people to resolve their problems before they progress further into the justice system, and to leave the justice system by resolving the problems that took them there in the first place. The legal aid system must anticipate and meet legal needs through a variety of means, not just through legal representation. It must be integrated with community-based information and advice services. It needs to have a national overview and be strongly linked into government agencies and non-governmental organisations throughout the justice and social sectors.
The legal aid system needs to be transformed for it to become more effective. While the legal aid system cannot control externally driven demand, it can control its own efficiency and effectiveness.
The legal aid system currently faces a number of issues, which are acting together to cause systemwide
failings. They include:
* the strong operational focus of the Legal Services Agency
* poor relationships between the New Zealand Law Society and the Legal Services Agency, and other key stakeholders
* reluctance by the Legal Services Agency to exercise its statutory discretions, particularly in relation to lawyers
* cumbersome administrative procedures originating from the Legal Services Act, which seems to be, at times, overly protective of the market share of the lawyers who provide legal aid services
* inflexible procurement provisions in the Act, which prevent the Legal Services Agency from procuring services in the most efficient way possible variable quality legal aid services, resulting from ineffective barriers to entering the legal aid system
* over-reliance on complaints as an indicator of lawyers who are failing to perform. The
incentives are stacked against complaining, which means that while everyone knows who the
bad lawyers are, nobody will act on that knowledge.
These factors work together to create a legal aid system that is open to abuse by lawyers and
defendants. There is a small but significant group of lawyers (and some defendants) who are taking
advantage of this.