3 Dec 2009

New legal aid head set to tackle corruption

7:00 pm on 3 December 2009

The new head of legal aid says it's clear there's been a breakdown of communication between his organisation and the body regulating lawyers.

Former High Court judge John Hansen has taken charge of the Legal Services Agency following last week's damning report on the state of legal aid by Dame Margaret Bazley; most members of the agency resigned in the wake of the report, which suggested some lawyers were milking legal-aid payments.

Mr Hansen says a joint investigation with the Law Society will be required to stamp out corruption, and lawyers should be working with his agency to get action taken against those responsible.

He says his immediate focus is ensuring legal aid remains available but there are issues that clearly need to be addressed, including the level of dysfunction between the agency and the Law Society.

'Outrageous' claim about number of cheats

Earlier on Thursday, the president of the Law Society said it was wrong and outrageous to suggest - as Dame Margaret's report does - that 80% of lawyers at the Manukau District Court are cheating the legal aid system.

John Marshall QC, who visited the court after the report came out, says lawyers working there are united in their anger and concern about the suggestion.

He says the next step will be to find and remove the small number of lawyers at the court who are acting improperly.

He told Morning Report he fully agrees with general tenor of the report, and acknowledges that the Manukau court is not well enough resourced to deal with its current caseload, but says the claims about lawyers there are based on anecdotal and hearsay evidence, and are wrong.

He says the 60 or so lawyers at the court practise in very difficult circumstances on behalf of disadvantaged people.