It’s a rough justice . . .
Community law centres are facing considerable uncertainty. In Porirua, the Whitireia Community Law Centre has the immediate concern of a $50,000 funding cut. Its managing solicitor Louis Leung says services and staffing will have to be reduced.
We have been told the funding cut is a penalty for not performing well enough in categories of advice, information and education against Justice Ministry criteria.
Mr Leung says the system for recording and evaluating the service is flawed.
It would be interesting to know how the law centre would stack up if evaluated by the 6800 clients it helped in the past 12 months, not just bureaucratic bean counters.
Legal support is a personal service, clients often facing emotional and stressful predicaments, whether it be parental rights, an employment dispute or money woes.
As much as this Government is wont to turn everything into a number, you can’t always quantify performance or contribution with benchmarks.
A law centre is not a call centre – well, at least not yet.
The long- term uncertainty facing all 26 community law centres in New Zealand is a proposed restructure looming in 2013 when all Justice Ministry contracts with community law centres end. It would see some of the $11 million annual budget diverted into a ‘‘national information and advice service’’ accessible only by email or 0800 number.
A two-tier system would exist; the national call centre providing legal advice and information; and staffed law centres in communities flagged for a high level of legal need, and restricted to people of low income and who do not qualify for legal aid. The aims of the new framework are to improve access, consistency of service across law centres, improved quality and range of services, national coordination and efficiency.
In submissions, law centres expressed a number of concerns. There were fears the model would lead to reduced community-based services, and the Government was too removed to determine the needs of individual communities.
The ministry has expressed eagerness to involve law centres in the model’s refinement. Hopefully it amounts to more than platitudes.
But given we’ve also reported recently the start of hefty charges for taking matters to the Family Court, and contentious changes to legal aid, which local lawyer Catriona Doyle says will limit the quality of representation, there is legitimate concern the most marginalised members of our community will be dealt less justice then they deserve.
Matthew Dallas, Editor.