9 Oct 2012

Justice Minister softens legal aid changes

10:28 pm on 9 October 2012

Justice Minister Judith Collins has softened a number of the Government's proposed changes to legal aid.

The legislation clamping down on legal aid was introduced by Ms Collins's predecessor Simon Power in 2011.

The changes announced on Tuesday include halving the proposed user charge for civil and family cases from $100 to $50.

They also remove the proposal to tighten the means testing for less serious criminal cases such as theft, assault or careless driving.

Ms Collins says the changes ensure that the bill strikes the best balance between targeting legal aid where it is needed, encouraging more people to resolve minor family and civil matters out of court and ensuring access to justice services.

The Law Society says families will struggle to pay lawyers' fees despite the Government's changes.

Liz Bulger, the organisation's legal services committee convenor, says she is pleased with the changes, but people will still have to contribute to paying for a lawyer in Family Court disputes.

Ms Bulger told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Tuesday that legal aid needs to be available to as many people as possible - including those families.

The legislation will have its second reading in Parliament later this year.