3 Apr 2009

Legal aid system to get review

10:34 am on 3 April 2009

The legal aid system is set for a big overhaul amid concerns of rising costs and criminals' use of the system to fund drawn-out court cases and appeals.

The Government has announced a major review, but says the aim is not to restrict access to legal aid.

Justice Minister Simon Power says concerns about the current system include access to justice, high costs and the effect of caseloads on the courts.

Mr Power says all aspects of the system will be examined, with a focus on different ways to control or cut costs.

He says the terms of reference are broad, though some areas need special attention.

"Monitoring the cost of it is always going to be an issue - it's very difficult to predict in any one year what you will spend on legal aid.

"Also we want to make sure we're not seeing the system being 'gamed', that people are getting access to justice in a timely and efficient way."

ACT says people with multiple convictions should not be able to keep applying for legal aid.

Labour welcomes the review as long as fair access to legal services is retained.

Auckland defence lawyer Gary Gotlieb says the review will help to dispel public misconceptions about the legal aid system and how lawyers access funds.

Mr Gotlieb says legal aid covers not only criminal law but other legal areas as well, such as family law.

He says the public tend to think of legal aid only in relation to criminal law and there are many unfair criticisms of defence lawyers who access it.

The review will be headed by Dame Margaret Bazley.