New Zealand’s legal aid scheme will be significantly strengthened with further investment from Budget 2022, Minister of Justice Kris Faafoi announced this week.
“Budget 2022 will help around 93,000 more people be eligible for legal aid from January 2023, fulfilling our election promise to make improvements to our court system so everyone has appropriate access to justice,” says Faafoi.
“Legal aid is central to ensuring equity in New Zealand's justice system and by further investing over $148 million across four years, we are making sure people are not denied access to justice based on their financial means.”
Other increases include:
- Hourly rates for over 2,400 legal aid lawyers to be raised by 12 per cent beginning 1 July 2022
- Increasing debt repayment thresholds by 16.5 per cent from 1 January 2023, relieving financial pressures for around 16,000 low-income and vulnerable New Zealanders per year
- Yearly 1.9 per cent increases to both the eligibility and repayment thresholds for the next three years, so that these settings keep pace with wage inflation
“Change is needed so the legal aid scheme can keep doing what it was designed to do,” says Faafoi.
“Eligibility for the scheme has become outdated, while hourly rates for legal aid lawyers have remained static since 2008.
“Budget 2022 will update legal aid policy settings around eligibility, repayment, and legal aid lawyers’ remuneration to improve access to justice, ensuring that the legal aid scheme is resilient into the future.
“It will also make repayments more equitable by reducing repayment requirements for low-income and vulnerable New Zealanders.
“This will mean more people will be able to access the scheme and get legal advice, ensuring the ongoing viability of the legal aid system,” says Faafoi.
As the number and cost of legal aid cases are projected to grow the Ministry must be able to fund them, Budget 2022 will provide $41.5 million over four years to cover the costs of existing demand for legal aid services, based on projections through until 2024/25.
In order to address the impact of case backlogs due to COVID-19, Budget 2022 provides funding of $34.5 million to provide extra resourcing through the appointment of additional judges, and supporting staff, helping to get back to more reasonable wait times faster.
“This is most effective way to make sure the courts that saw an increase in active cases due to COVID-19 can reduce these caseloads to pre-COVID-19 levels,” says Minister for Courts Aupito William Sio.
Also helping to expedite the court process, Budget 2022 will provide $11 million over four years towards the judicially led Criminal Process Improvement Programme (CPIP).
“This funding aims to reduce delays in the District Court by making sure that all participants are fully prepared to meaningfully progress or resolve a case at the scheduled hearing.
“CPIP was assembled to reduce pressure and outstanding workload in the criminal jurisdiction of the District Court by establishing best practice to help cases reach resolution earlier and with fewer court events.
“Making every court appearance meaningful will reduce the delays that waste court time and resources, and those of all court participants – defendants, complainants, victims, witnesses and their whānau,” says Faafoi.
CPIP is also critical to implementing Te Ao Mārama, the new model for the District Court, ensuring the system has the capacity to embed transformational change.
Te Ao Mārama will receive $47.4 million contingency over four years for design and delivery, by partnering with iwi and engaging with communities to co-design and deliver services that better reflect the diversity, strengths and needs of each community.
“The programme aims to address the underlying causes of offending, improve access to justice, and to support victims to feel safe.
“It will also incorporate best practice knowledge, skills and approaches that we know work well from our specialist and therapeutic courts, such as the Rangatahi, Matariki, and Family Violence Courts,” says Sio.