New Zealand has its first Public Defender, an Auckland barrister who leads 18 lawyers in the country’s pilot program to deliver “a quality, consistent service” for less money. Time will tell whether the three year scheme will deliver the goods.

Auckland lawyer Michael Corry will lead a team of 18 salaried lawyers working full-time on legal aid cases in the Auckland and Manukau courts from May next year.

The manager of strategic development for the Legal Services Agency, Frances Blyth, said the three-year Public Defence Services pilot aimed to deliver “a quality, consistent service” for the same or less money than the present legal aid system.

“Cost-benefit analysis shows that we can deliver this service for the same money and probably cheaper,” said the manager of the Legal Services Agency, Frances Blyth. But cost-cutting was not the primary aim of the scheme, she said.

“We believe that having a dedicated full-time team of criminal lawyers under the supervision and tutelage of experienced professionals will give consistent quality to a public service.”

Under the current legal aid system, defendants who qualify for state-sponsored legal representation can either choose a preferred representative from a list of approved lawyers, or have one appointed on their behalf by the Legal Services Agency.

“But the pilot scheme will also give us a better understanding of how legal aid is delivered and what could be done to improve the service.”

The Public Defence Service was established by the Legal Services Act 2000, and given the go-ahead by Justice Minister Phil Goff in February this year.

It was expected that by May 2007 public defenders would be handling about one-third of all legal aid cases in the Auckland and Manukau courts, Ms Blyth said.

The unit will gradually build up to 25 staff, including administrative support.

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