A judge has urged a couple charged with benefit fraud to ditch their "bush lawyer" and get a real one - or face a possible jail sentence.
In the New Plymouth District Court yesterday Emmaleen Mariana Osborne and Andre Sean O'Brien appeared independently in the dock.
Both said they were being represented by a man they described as a tikanga Maori lawyer.
The couple are facing a long list of prosecutions brought by the Department of Social Development including obtaining by deception and using a document between 2003 to 2012.
It is alleged both illegally received benefits when they were living together.
Osborne, the first of the two to appear, told Judge Rob Murfitt her whanau wanted her to be represented by the tikanga Maori lawyer who was in court.
But the judge said the man had to be a qualified lawyer to be able to represent her regarding prosecutions brought under the Crimes Act.
The man argued he did have legal standing, as determined by the Privy Council.
''Unfortunately it does not give you standing in this court,'' Judge Murfitt told him.
''No judge is going to allow [the man] to represent you,'' Judge Murfitt told Osborne.
''He may accompany you as a McKenzie friend,'' he said.
A McKenzie friend is a person who is allowed in court to support somebody defending themselves.
The charges alleged that ''you are ripping off the system by not acknowledging you were living with your husband O'Brien,'' the judge said.
By ''messing the system around'' Osborne could lose her opportunity to present a valid defence, the judge warned.
''This is fraud so jail could follow. Are you sure you want to go down the tikanga road?''
''Yes,'' Osborne replied.
''I strongly urge you to get a lawyer and not some bush lawyer or you could go to jail,'' the judge said.
With that the man left the courtroom.
When O'Brien appeared in the dock shortly after he declined to make a plea.
The judge repeated his warning that he faced a possible jail sentence.
''This is not a matter to be taken frivolously.''
The judge asked the prosecutor to furnish Osborne and O'Brien with the evidence against them.
The two were remanded to reappear for a hearing on September 28.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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