January 14, 2013
Changes slash legal aid treaty budget
Legal aid for treaty claims has started to decline.
Justice Ministry figures show $11.5 million was paid out in the year to June 2013, about 8 percent of the total $148m legal aid bill. A further $4.6 million was paid out in the next six months.
Spending peaked in 2010 at $16.7 million, and $79 million has been spent since 2006, when the imposition of a deadline on lodging historic claims created a surge of activity.
Most of the money is spent on attending hearings and legal preparation, with travel also covered.
But Auckland barrister Grant Powell says since former justice minister Simon Power shook up the system in 2011, legal aid is no longer paid for the negotiation stage.
He says that leaves a gaping hole in the system, and the Government is still willing to pay large sums for lawyers to sit on its side of the negotiating table.
Mr Powell says while the sums may appear large, treaty claims are large and complex cases.
The hourly rate is less than half a normal market rate, and tight restrictions and pay delays means the number of lawyers willing to represent Treaty claimants was declining.
Since 2006 there have been 19 treaty settlements totaling $480 million, with a further 16 claims totaling $250 million awaiting legislation.
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