14 Mar 2012

Court reserves decision on lawyer choice case

6:24 pm on 14 March 2012

The Court of Appeal has reserved its decision on whether those on legal aid have had their rights breached because they are not allowed to choose who represents them in court.

The case arose from a 2010 law change that meant that people seeking legal aid for lower level criminal charges were assigned a lawyer rather than choosing their own counsel.

In May last year the High Court ruled that the Bill of Rights Act does not give legal aid defendants a partial or absolute right to engage their lawyer of choice.

A lawyer for three South Auckland people who were denied a choice of counsel, told the Court of Appeal on Wednesday that goes against rulings from several overseas jurisdictions, including the European Court of Justice.

However, a Crown lawyer said the European cases occurred in a different context to New Zealand.

He said in those cases the issue was the freedom to choose a lawyer, not one of affordability.

The law surrounding legal aid changed again last year and the three Appeal Court judges had questioned whether in light of that there was any point in hearing the case.