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Big Steps In Store To Rein In Legal Aid Spend

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Simon Power
Simon Power

Wellington, Aug 25 NZPA - Expenditure on legal aid has got out of hand and significant steps will have to be taken to rein it back in, Justice Minister Simon Power says.

Speaking at an Otago University moot court, Mr Power said expenditure on legal aid had risen by $45.3 million in the past three years.

"Last year the legal aid system cost $128.6 million. In three years' time that figure is projected to pass the $200m mark."

A lot of that stemmed from decisions made in 2007 to increase lawyer remuneration and extend eligibility for legal aid, he said.

By 2011/2012 legal aid was expected to be $69m over budget.

"To put it in perspective, plugging that hole would require wiping out an entire year's budget for family and civil legal aid -- plus some."

Mr Power said other countries used spending caps, eligibility restrictions and fixed fees to keep spending under control, and the introduction of such measures would not be ruled out here.

Bulk funding law firms was also an option, as was expanding the public defence service faster then originally planned.

Mr Power said he would report back to cabinet in November on options to bring spending under control while maintaining access to justice.

He said he also expected to be able to introduce a bill to Parliament before the end of the year on ways to speed up justice processes.

Proposals being looked at include:

* Raising jury trial thresholds;

* requiring counsel to attempt to resolve cases prior to a hearing and avoid unnecessary court cases;

* requiring defence to identify issues in dispute so courts can focus on those issues at trial;

* ensuring all pre-trial matters are adequately dealt with.

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