Kiwis' access to legal aid declining, research says

The research found not all registered civil legal aid lawyers actually provided that help.
The research found not all registered civil legal aid lawyers actually provided that help. Photo credit: Getty

It's getting harder for Kiwis to access legal aid, new research suggests.

University of Otago researchers have found people needing legal help and who can't afford private lawyers are being left with very few options.

Dr Bridgette Toy-Cronin says it leads to people walking away from proceedings.

"We found it is very hard to qualify for legal aid and if you do qualify, it is difficult to find a lawyer who can take the case," Dr Toy-Cronin says.

The number of lawyers registered to provide civil legal aid in New Zealand dropped 54 per cent between 2011 and 2016.

That left 150 registered providers in Auckland and 20 in Otago, where the study was carried out. 

A key finding in the research was that not all registered civil legal aid lawyers actually provided that help.

Last year the research showed one third of those currently registered did not provide civil legal aid to clients.

"A lawyer's hourly charge-out is an average of around $300 so it is unaffordable for most people to pay a lawyer, particularly when the average wage is about $960 per week," Dr Toy-Cronin says.

She says a number of community-based services have emerged over time in an attempt to bridge this gap.

However they often only offered information and advice and had very limited free or low-cost representation services.

"People are therefore often left with the choice of either abandoning their claim or defence or representing themselves. 

"The position of small business owners is worse as a company can't get legal aid, only an individual, and most community providers won't provide advice to companies either."

The next phase of their study will explore why some legal aid providers no longer offer civil legal aid services, or are only doing so on a very limited basis.

Newshub.