Dismissed claims cost $928,000 in legal aid

The first claims among hundreds of historic psychiatric and social welfare cases awaiting a hearing have been dismissed, but more than $928,000 of taxpayer money has been paid in legal aid.

Sonja Cooper, the lawyer for two brothers who each sued for more than $1 million, said the Crown had escaped liability on a technical legal issue for abuse and neglect that they suffered, and is recommending an appeal.

Ms Cooper said these types of cases should be settled out of court, but the Crown had resisted.

The three cases dismissed have raised doubts about the way the Legal Services Agency will fund future cases.

It has to consider prospects of success. Grants manager Robyn Nicholas said it was considering possible implications for other cases.

The Wellington law firm for the brothers in the social welfare case, Sonja M Cooper, was paid $1.445 million in the financial year to June 30, and is the third highest legal aid earner.

The firm has filed about 300 psychiatric and social welfare damages claims and more than 400 others are planned.

Ms Cooper said the $740,696 received for the brothers' case represented eight years of work on behalf of one brother, and six years for the other.

The judge's factual findings favoured the claimants, but the Crown "escaped" liability on a technical legal issue, she said.

The cost and time involved concerned the firm, and it would work with the agency to minimise cost in other trials.

"That is a very compelling reason to look to alternative, less formal and costly procedures to address these types of claims."

Both she and Roger Chapman, the lawyer for an intellectually disabled man whose legal aid bill was $188,000 for a claim dismissed two weeks ago, would prefer to settle claims out of court.

Public inquiries and out-of-court processes used overseas had been fairer to the victims, Ms Cooper said.

As well as paying for lawyers, legal aid payments cover costs including expert witnesses, investigators and office expenses.

Applications for civil legal aid increased 17 per cent in the past financial year, largely because of damages claims against the Crown, the agency's annual report said.

The Dominion Post