Legal help scheme launched in city

The Government is now employing its own defence lawyers in Christchurch, after the launch of a new legal scheme was delayed by the earthquakes.

The Christchurch branch of the Public Defence Service was officially opened by Justice Ministry representatives on Monday, and will take up to half of criminal legal aid cases at the High Court and in district courts in Christchurch.

In 2009, the Government announced plans to expand the system of publicly salaried defence lawyers as a means of controlling spiralling legal aid costs.

Public Defence Service director Brendan Horsley said the branch, on the corner of Durham and Armagh streets, was the 10th and final step of a nationwide expansion.

"We had high hopes it would be open roughly in February 2011, but I'm sure some of you may be familiar with the building problems that we had around that time."

Justice Ministry chief executive Andrew Bridgman said the lawyers employed by the service provided "crucial" assistance to people who could not afford their own lawyer.

"You and other legal aid lawyers defend some of society's most vulnerable people, and some of society's most troubled people."

Courts Minister Chester Borrows acknowledged concerns about how the service would affect business at private law firms, but said there was enough business in major cities for all lawyers.

"We need to acknowledge that when money is tight, we need to follow what is an internationally recognised practice," he said.

The Press