24 May 2013

Court rules some legal aid changes illegal

5:56 pm on 24 May 2013

Criminal defence lawyers are claiming victory after the Court of Appeal ruled that some of the Government's contentious legal aid changes are illegal.

The Criminal Bar Association has been fighting against fixed fees for legal aid lawyers - a regime which began in March 2012.

Under the scheme, lawyers are paid a set fee based on the seriousness of their client's charges, rather than being paid for the amount of work they do on the case.

Friday's judgment says the policy is unlawful, because it is inconsistent with the Legal Services Act passed two years ago.

Criminal Bar Association president Tony Bouchier says that finding is embarrassing for the Government.

"It's an important victory - it's certainly not going to solve all the problems that we've got with legal aid and the decisions that this Government is making as far as legal aid is concerned.

"But I think it will require the Ministry of Justice officials to pause and take stock of the way that they have been treating the criminal bar."

Mr Bouchier says the Government has made decisions based on budgets rather than the quality of justice.

Justice Minister Judith Collins on Friday declined to comment. Her office said she has not yet seen the ruling.

A spokesperson says Ms Collins will receive advice on the decision and its implications in due course.