The Government is toying with Kiwis’ right to a fair trial by underfunding legal aid services and shuttering offices across the county, the Green Party said today.
The Ministry of Justice confirmed today that all but two of the country’s regional legal aid offices will be closed, following recent revelations that funding for legal aid has not kept up with demand.
“Ensuring that everyone who needs it has high quality, compassionate legal aid should be a priority for any government, but National’s funding cuts are jeopardising the system," said Green Party Justice spokesperson David Clendon.
“Regions facing closures are already feeling the strain of an underfunded system. Christchurch, for example, has experienced some of the biggest drops in legal aid lawyers among all the regions.
“Legal aid applications are up, but the number of lawyers who are able and sufficiently experienced to provide quality advice for civil, mental health, family and refugee claims are dropping.
“Last year the Greens called for a select committee inquiry into access to justice and Simon Bridges rejected it wholesale, claiming that the justice system was ‘there for those who wish to avail themselves of it.
“But now we’re seeing an unprecedented number of judges and the legal profession criticise the Government for the way they’ve walled off the justice system for poor and middle-class people.
“National’s cuts to legal aid are supposedly about cost savings, but the real risk is that we are ‘saving’ money at one end of the system and imposing costs on society’s most vulnerable at the other end.
“Kiwis want to see everyone get a fair go in the justice system, but the strain that National is putting on the system is only going to put justice further out of peoples reach,’ said Mr Clendon.