23 Sep 2009

Prosecutor fees anger defence lawyers

3:11 pm on 23 September 2009

Criminal defence lawyers say it is unfair that Crown Solicitors are paid about 25% more than them.

Figures released to Radio New Zealand show the Crown Law Office paid $35,708 million to prosecutors during the past financial year - a $10 million jump on what was paid in 2005.

Attorney General Chris Finlayson believes the amount is justified and says it is independently assessed on a regular basis by a senior accountant.

The figures also show a Senior Crown Solicitor can charge an hourly rate of $198, excluding GST, which Mr Finlayson describes as a "bargain" compared to what some commercial law firms charge.

However, the convenor of the Law Society's Criminal Law sub-committee, Jonathan Krebs, says that's about 25% more than defence lawyers can get through legal aid, with their charges including GST.

He says that's unfair, and the Law Society will make submissions in response to a report on legal aid, suggesting the rates should be comparable.

Mr Krebs says the last time prosecutors and defence lawyers got paid the same by the state was 1982.

A Government review of the criminal justice system will look at the way the prosecution service is organised.

The Minister of Justice, Simon Power, has launched investigations into the efficiency of criminal court cases and the provision of legal aid.

Mr Finlayson says the minister has asked him to look at the way the Crown organises the prosecution service, once the legal aid review has been conducted.

Prominent barrister Greg King says any review of how cases are defended should also consider how they're prosecuted.