Free legal service being tendered
The country's leading free legal service faces an uncertain future as the Government looks to tender out its operations.
There are 24 Community Law Centres currently operating around the country, including the Hamilton District Community Law Centre Trust.
Elizabeth Tennet, chief executive of Community Law Centres o Aotearoa said the number of centres could be halved in the Government's proposal.
The Ministry of Justice - which now funds the service - will announce the changes to its full service model, "Improving Access to community legal service", package by end of the month.
The new framework has been developed over the past 12 months. All tenders have to be with the Ministry by June next year.
People who live in an area that loses its centre could be left with having to phone an 0800 or an internet-based advice service.
Executives from the 24 centres are staging a meeting with more than 30 MP's in Wellington tonight to discuss the issue.
"We will be telling the MPs that we think there is a real danger in meddling with what has proven to be a very successful public private partnership for the provision of Community Law throughout the country. This is a model that has built up over 30 years which is reliant on lawyers volunteering their time to ensure access to justice in their local communities," Ms Tennet says.
With some 250,000 people receiving information and advice from Community Law Centres in the last year, there is real concern about how this need will be met. The most frequent areas in which people seek advice relate to family and employment law.
A study released last month, carried out by the New Zealand Institute for Economic Research showed that for less than $11million, that is less than .01% of the Ministry of Justice budget, Community Law delivers over $36million of legal services to New Zealanders who could not otherwise afford legal services. When other legal information services are factored in, the cost benefit ratio is one to five for casework.
Ms Tennet say Community Law Centres are particularly concerned at the potential loss of face-to-face services.
"If 24 contracts are halved, as we understand the Government proposes, it is inevitable many towns will be left without face-to-face services. Lawyers are busy people who donate their time where they live and it wont be feasible for them to travel as a volunteer.''
The briefing is taking place on the eve of the organisation's first annual hui which takes place over the next three days in Wellington.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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