19 Dec 2009

Legal aid system still needs experienced barristers: minister

6:16 pm on 19 December 2009

Justice Minister Simon Power says experienced criminal barristers will still have a place in the new legal aid system.

Several changes are to be implemented following a report by Dame Margaret Bazley which found extensive problems with lawyers abusing the system.

She concluded there was a small but significant group of lawyers who are abusing the system with appalling behaviour and made several recommendations.

As recommended, the Legal Services Agency will be disestablished and its responsibilities picked up by the Ministry of Justice.

Mr Power says while he sees room to expand the public defenders office it won't be the only option available to defendants.

He says there must always be a place for experienced, well regarded and specific criminal barristers whose expertise is critical to the criminal justice system working.

The Public Defence Service will be extended to Auckland, Wellington, Hamilton and Christchurch.

The law will be changed so the Justice Ministry will be able to set criteria for the accreditation of legal aid lawyers and a panel will be created to consider those accreditations.

Mr Power says there will be a law change as soon as possible next year and he will be following up on further recommendations contained in the report.