30 May 2011

Lawyers mount fight against legal aid reforms

9:57 pm on 30 May 2011

Criminal defence lawyers are considering a work-to-rule in opposition to Government changes to legal aid.

Barristers argue there is an erosion of access to justice, as more of their contract work goes to salaried staff of the Public Defence Service.

Radio New Zealand's justice reporter says they are also angry that people facing less serious charges, such as burglary, are now unable to choose their legal aid lawyer.

In an unprecedented move, a lobby group has been formed and there is now nationwide collaboration.

Lawyers are trying to get the Public Defence Service's share of the work reduced from 50% to the 33% threshold they were first told of. Politicians are also being lobbied.

But the Legal Services Agency, which administers legal aid, says the mixed public-private defender model has proved itself in Australia and will proceed in New Zealand.

Law Society Canterbury-Westland president Allister Davis said on Monday the society will decide what protest action it will take in the next seven to 10 days.

However, Law Society president Jonathan Temm says strike action is an impractical and inappropriate solution.

Mr Temm says such moves would be in breach of lawyers' contracts and their obligations to the courts and their clients.

The society is working to try to lessen the impact of the changes, he says.