Staff, ser­vice cuts likely

Kapi-Mana News - - FRONT PAGE -

Re­duced staffing and ser­vices are ex­pected at Whi­tireia Com­mu­nity Law Cen­tre fol­low­ing a $50,000 fund­ing cut.

The cen­tre, manned by lawyers, non-le­gal staff and vol­un­teers, has been op­er­at­ing in Porirua since 1994. It pro­vides free as­sis­tance, ad­vo­cacy and rep­re­sen­ta­tion for in­di­vid­u­als and or­gan­i­sa­tions who may not be able to af­ford it.

In the past 12 months the law cen­tre has seen nearly 6800 clients, more than they are con­tracted to by the Min­istry of Jus­tice, but due to ‘‘ deficiencies’’ in other ar­eas, $50,000 of fund­ing is be­ing with­held.

With a bud­get of $344,000, and a staff of eight lawyers and two ad­min­is­tra­tion staff, manag­ing solic­i­tor Louis Le­ung says they face tough de­ci­sions.

‘‘$50,000 is quite a drop and it will have a big ef­fect. It has come as a big shock to us.’’

Per­for­mance lev­els for 2011/12 show Whi­tireia Com­mu­nity Law Cen­tre’s [ WCLC] rep­re­sen­ta­tion and as­sis­tance are 48 per cent and 26 per cent above tar­gets re­spec­tively, but ad­vice (65 per cent), in­for­ma­tion (74 per cent) and ed­u­ca­tion (90 per cent) are be­low Min­istry of Jus­tice re­quire­ments.

‘‘We are go­ing to con­test this in­for­ma­tion be­cause when­ever we talk to a client we are giv­ing ad­vice and in­for­ma­tion,’’ Mr Le­ung says. ‘‘There is a sys­tem for record­ing data which we think is un­rea­son­able; of­ten we are go­ing straight to the rep­re­sen­ta­tion and as­sis­tance stage, which we are well over our tar­gets for.

‘‘Num­bers of­ten do not re­flect the work we are do­ing – staff [ at WCLC] are pas­sion­ate about this com­mu­nity and of­ten make sac­ri­fices to work here.’’

The law cen­tre’s ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee chair­man Aporo Joyce says Min­istry of Jus­tice can­not ex­pect the cen­tre to turn clients away in re­turn for more time on law re­form and le­gal ed­u­ca­tion.

‘‘It’s not about tick­ing boxes, it’s about help­ing peo­ple who are in trou­ble and this cut will lead to re­duced ser­vices to our com­mu­nity. We con­tracted to pro­vide 5700 hours of ser­vice [last fi­nan­cial year] and we’ve ex­ceeded that.

‘‘This is our law cen­tre, we put our com­mu­nity first and won’t tell peo­ple in need to go away be­cause their prob­lem doesn’t fit the Min­istry’s sta­tis­ti­cal model.’’

Mr Le­ung hopes to en­ter me­di­a­tion with Min­istry of Jus­tice to dis­cuss the fund­ing re­duc­tion, but, for now, ‘‘we have to live with it’’.

New Zealand has 26 com­mu­nity law cen­tres, and he says they are aware of at least one other that faces a sim­i­lar cut. He would love for Porirua res­i­dents to make their feel­ings known to their MP or Jus­tice Min­is­ter Ju­dith Collins.

As well as the Min­istry of Jus­tice, law cen­tres get fund­ing through grants and from the Lawyers and Con­veyancers Spe­cial Fund (in­ter­est earned on lawyers’ trust ac­counts).

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