Māori legal advice strategies discussed

4:31 pm on 26 November 2015

Too many Māori in need of legal advice are going without it, the Community Law Centres o Aotearoa (CLCA) says.

Julia Whapooti, co-chair of youth law advocacy group Just Speak

CLCA national Māori co-ordinator Julia Whaipooti (file) Photo: SUPPLIED

More than 100 representatives of the country's 24 community law centres are attending a hui in Christchurch, which kicked off today.

About 30 members of the CLCA's Māori caucus have already spent two days this week discussing ways to get more Māori using its free legal advice services.

National Māori co-ordinator Julia Whaipooti said it was not always easy to engage with Māori.

"For Māori communities, what we're finding is that it is intimidating working with the law.

"Experiences for Māori within the law are generally not positive. So even community law, we're a free service - we're accessible or try to be - but for Māori communities, the law itself is a barrier," she said.

Removing barriers for Māori has been a focus for CLCA in the past year, with the addition of Māori representation on its board and a new Māori co-chair, Bernadette Arapere.

"It's really about getting the law centre profile lifted with Māori and making sure that our Māori clients are well serviced by the law centres," Ms Arapere said.

That could be done by having Māori staff or people with the necessary skills to meet the needs of Māori but an innovative approach was needed, she said.

"The Rotorua Community Law Centre are proposing to run clinics in the Urewera.

"They will take the services to the people rather than the people having to come to the law centre," she said.

Ms Whaipooti said some Māori clients could feel embarrassed to seek help but stressed that moves needed to be made to get them to ask for help sooner.

"We can be the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, and that more comes into play when people are at their last tether and they realise 'oh, I'll go and ask for help'," she said.

The Māori caucus will report its findings back to the wider hui, and CLCA chief executive Elizabeth Tennet said it could mean changes ahead.

"We will be discussing a strategy forward, how we can implement some of the recommendations from our members.

"It may require a change of focus in some of the work we do at the community law centre level," she said.

The conference at Rehua Marae will wrap up on Friday.