It’s a rough jus­tice . . .

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

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.

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