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24 May - 10:36 pm NZ
Updated at 7:38 am on 9 May 2012
One of the leading lawyers for Ngapuhi treaty claimants says delays to the northern claims will worsen the economic inequality of iwi.
Gerald Sharrock, who represents a number of northern hapu, says it's now 15 years since Ngai Tahu received its $170 million dollar settlement - and that has been built to assets now worth more than a $1 billion.
But the Waitangi Tribunal has warned it may have to defer the Ngapuhi land claim hearings set down for this year because it's overloaded with urgent inquiries, including state-owned enterprise (SOE) and kohanga reo claims.
Mr Sharrock says the tribal landscape is already distorted because iwi who settled early are now enjoying great economic power while the guardians of the Treaty, Ngapuhi, have none.
Delaying the Ngapuhi hearings because of a lack of tribunal resources will compound that inequity, he says.
Mr Sharrock says recent changes to the legal aid system are also damaging Ngapuhi interests.
Law firms researching the northern claims have been forced to lay off staff or divert them to other work, even though other iwi who earlier went through the Tribunal process had full benefit of legal aid payments.
Some law firms were waiting months for Ministry of Justice staff pay their invoices, he says.
But the ministry's director of legal aid services, Michelle McCreadie, says the median time taken to approve Waitangi Tribunal invoices is 20 working days from the receipt of the invoice.
All invoices for legal aid are checked for accuracy and completeness. Ms McCreadie says once an invoice is assessed as accurate and complete, it's approved and paid within five working days .
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