10 Oct 2012

Former legal aid proposals too harsh, says minister

8:57 am on 10 October 2012

Justice Minister Judith Collins says proposed changes to the legal aid system which she has decided to roll back were too harsh.

The legislation clamping down on legal aid was introduced by Ms Collins's predecessor Simon Power in 2011.

Ms Collins has softened some aspects of the bill, including a proposal to tighten means testing for less serious criminal cases, such as theft, assault or careless driving.

The changes announced on Tuesday include halving the proposed user charge for civil and family cases from $100 to $50.

Ms Collins says the former proposals were too much of a blunt instrument, particularly where vulnerable women were at risk.

"It is better that we get the family court system, particularly around care of children matters, sorted out, which is what we're doing right now. The family court review has been taken into account.

"We don't need to be as harsh around legal aid as what was proposed."

The Labour Party's justice spokesperson, Charles Chauvel, says he's pleased the most severe aspects of the cuts have been rolled back.

"The sorts of savage cuts that we would have seen imposed on legal assistance for ordinary Kiwis ... would never have flown.

"They were just far too steep and would have restricted, in fact destroyed, the legal aid system."

A new provision is to be added to the legislation which would stop legal aid for anyone who is not paying their legal aid debt.

Green Party's Justice spokesperson Julie-Anne Genter says women trying to get out of violent relationships could be stopped by this provision.

"People in really vulnerable situations need access to the courts to solve their problems first, and to get back on their feet." The money can be recovered at some point, she says.

Ms Genter says that will increase pressure on Community Law Centres - which are already struggling.

The minister says does not think that is the case and says she is keen that Community Law Centres are sustainable and effective. A review of the centres is under way.