November 02, 2021
Māori clients struggle in legal aid crisis
A leading Māori barrister says the crisis in legal aid highlights the need for alternatives to the existing criminal justice system.
Kingi Snelgar, who now sits on the Criminal Cases Review Commission, says 90 per cent of his work was legal aid cases during the three years he spent as part of a Maori law firm working in the family and district court in South Auckland.
He says it’s highly stressful mahi and the pay hasn’t kept up with the demands of the work, meaning many lawyers have opted out.
That means defendants struggle to find good legal counsel.
Having the right lawyer, and especially a Māori lawyer can make a big difference in even minor cases where options like diversion should be on the table.
“Not saying that your average legal aid lawyers don’t do that but I kind of think our people have the extra skills of unlocking whanau and really trying to convince the judge to give this person a second chance,” Mr Snelga says.
Kingi Snelgar says as well as funding legal aid property and moving to the Te Ao Marama court system proposed by the chief judge, police practices need to change to stop pushing young people into the criminal justice system and on to the hinaki.