Justice Minister Kiri Allan is putting her mark on her major portfolio in a manner reflecting something of both a generational change in Justice administration, as well as building on the transformational Pacifica brand developed with finesse by former Law Society president and fellow East Coaster, Tiana Epati.
Her halting of the controversial scheme intended to ease the court backlog by paying lawyers $120-a-head for clients who take an early guilty plea was one that was sent \”back to the drawing board\” to prevent unethical practices occurring.
\”That is something that I think is quite an overreach and under-performance of policy design,” she said.
A lawyer by training, Kiritapu Allan grew up as a working class girl with a freezing worker father and with her mother working as a retirement home cleaner. The ninth of 10 children she was raised by both her parents and \”aunties and uncles\”, she said in an interview.
She studied at Victoria University before working with former Prime Minister Helen Clark, working with Chen Palmer, the former firm of Power Lawyer Mai Chen, and then as a commercial lawyer in Whakatane before entering Parliament via the Party List in 2017 following her attendance at a Labour Party meeting where she met a number of current colleagues, not the least of whom was Jacinda Ardern who she admires as both PM and a friend.
She has also been influenced by the late Moana Jackson, Annette Sykes, Horiana Irwin-Easthope and Maia Wikaira who she worked with at Kahui Legal, among others.
She was elected to Parliament as MP for the East Coast in the 2020 Labour landslide election, defeating Tania Tapsell, now the newly-elected mayor of Rotorua, by over 6000 votes.
In June, she was promoted to Justice Minister following stints as minister for Conservation, and also Emergency Management.
Being gay and from a religious family had raised eyebrows, she told E-Tangata.
“But I’ve never seen being gay as a separate and distinct part of my identity. It’s not something I talk about. I don’t have “Kiri is a gay” on my website. But, yeah, I’m sure that colours the way I see the world.”
She married Power Lawyer Natalie Coates in 2016 before subsequently divorcing (in a friendly way) in 2022 and becoming engaged to Radio New Zealand presenter Mani Dunlop.
Her elevated role as Justice spokesperson has seen her engage with lawyers on multiple levels, with a strong focus upon working towards easing the stress for lawyers in the legal aid sector, as well as working towards the government\’s focus on access to justice.
Reforms have been announced for the legal aid regime, including increasing the eligibility thresholds as well as the debt repayment thresholds, along with a 12 per cent increase in the legal aid providers\’ hourly rate, although the system still remains stressed for lawyers and clients alike.
As she wrote in a Law Society article, “improving access to justice is an enduring priority for this Government and at the heart of every decision I make in this role.
\”As someone involved in the work of administering justice, I believe it’s important to listen to the voices of those who need access to justice or who have experience in trying to do so, to understand what is working and what needs to change.
“As the Minister of Justice I have the privilege of being in a position to enact meaningful change and that means a significant programme of law reform is in motion, to improve the experiences of those on the frontline, including for victims and the thousands of lawyers working on their behalf.”
Increased Justice Expenditure
The Covid pandemic created major problems for Justice, which has seen increased expenditure by Government for additional resources to work with the profession, judiciary and court staff in order to expedite hearings.
The Criminal Process Improvement Programme (CPIP) is a multi-agency programme run by the judiciary to help avoid unnecessary adjournments and delays.
Rising to The Challenges
Kiri Allan\’s successful elevation along with her successful battle against cervical cancer, which has lead to what she describes as her \’rebirth\’, managing her \’big colourful tribe\’ shuttling between her homes in Wellington and the East Coast and including two daughters, Pikiarero Hazel, 4, and Hiwaiterangi Allan-Coates, 4.
The challenges that have arisen through the pandemic, as well as changes to legal aid sand the focus on access to justice, including such recent issues as the question of posthumous compensation for the family of Peter Ellis following the quashing of his sex abuse charges are all on the table for the Justice Minister.
Her vigorous approach to the job and ability to rise to earlier challenges suggest that they will not gather dust on her desk.