19 Jul 2012

Waitangi Tribunal rejects call to step in

7:15 pm on 19 July 2012

The Waitangi Tribunal examining fresh and geothermal water rights has rejected a call by the Maori Council's barrister to step in over legal aid payments.

The inquiry was launched after the council filed an urgent claim to the tribunal - sparked by the Government's proposal to sell shares in four power enterprises.

On Thursday morning the inquiry, which was due to start with the Maori Council delivering its closing submission - was overshadowed by the council's barrister, Felix Geiringer, complaining about his pay rate.

He told the Tribunal that an agreement to receive payment through legal aid was being re-evaluated, meaning he'd be paid at a lower hourly rate.

Mr Geiringer said he considered not turning up to deliver his closing evidence.

He wanted the Tribunal to step in, saying that the situation is essentially impractical, and impedes on his client's case.

Waitangi Tribunal inquiry chairperson Wilson Isaac responded saying it sympathised, but he said the Tribunal is here to hear the claim, and couldn't become involved.

He said Mr Geiringer needed to resolve the matter with the Ministry of Justice.

In a statement to Radio New Zealand, the ministry said council lawyers aren't earning less.

It says in order to ensure legal aid payments are correct, lawyers need to provide the right documentation, which the council's lawyers failed to do resulting in delays in issuing some legal aid payments.