Disabled legal aid centre fights
The Justice Ministry is being called upon to meet with Auckland's disabled community following a public meeting to save the country's only specialist legal service for disabled clients.
The Auckland Disability Law Service is under threat of being closed down under ministry proposals that could see some of the services offered by New Zealand's 26 community law centres replaced by an umbrella telephone and email service and the number of centres nationwide reduced.
The call to meet is the latest development since the service submitted an open letter to the ministry last week asking it to reconsider the proposals.
Law service development manager Nicola Owen held a meeting at Western Springs Community Hall on Monday to gather support for the unique service.
She says the ministry indicated the consultation process would cease on August 1 but it has not yet consulted with the law service.
Around 50 people attended the meeting including Green Party disability spokesperson Mojo Mathers, the country's first deaf MP.
Director of community services for the ministry Alison Hill says there are no plans to cut legal services for disabled people, but it is looking for new ways to deliver services that will ensure consistent quality across the country.
"Our intention is to build specialist service capability within all community law centres so disabled people anywhere in New Zealand can receive quality face-to-face service, not just those living in Auckland."
Ms Hill says the ministry consulted on a new model late last year and received many submissions, including one from the law service.
Ms Owen says the key issue for the Auckland service is being able to literally sit down with people so they can explain their legal case.
"Some of these people have been going through their legal issues for years, and it's not something you can get the whole story over the telephone or at a 10-minute legal clinic appointment."
She says some clients may need a sign language interpreter.
The Disability Law Service is Mangere-based but provides a mobile service, so it can "meet people's needs wherever they are", she says.
The majority of cases seen by the the service are issues arising from employment disputes or discrimination cases. Mt Eden-based service Regional Consumer Network is one of many organisations that refers clients to the disability law service.
Manager Tina Helm says the network often get calls from people, seeking advice around legal matters around a wide range of topics.
The contract for the legal service does not end until July 2013.
Visit aucklanddisabilitylaw.org.nz for more information about the service.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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