What's new for legal aid lawyers

Update on Legal Aid Services response to COVID-19 (22 February 2021)

22 February 2021– Following the Prime Minister’s announcement that Auckland will be moving to Alert Level 1 effective 11:59pm on 22 February 2021, the whole of New Zealand will be in Alert Level 1 from tomorrow. Accordingly, the updates on Legal Aid Services’ response to COVID-19 that have been published on the Ministry’s website since 15 February 2021 will no longer apply. This change will be effective from the 24 February 2021 onwards.

This means that unless advised otherwise, legal aid polices on travel disbursements, duty lawyer invoicing, additional fees and signing of legal aid applications for will return to business as usual from 24 February 2021.

We thank you for your assistance and cooperation during this time, in continuing to deliver our essential and priority services.

Legal Aid granting policy for Employment Relations Authority (ERA) proceedings

Legal Aid funding is available for counsel to complete and file a Statement of Problem, as part of the mediation step of ERA proceedings.

If a party refuses to attend mediation, a provider may claim the ‘Completion and filing of Statement of Problem’ fee if a direction is needed from the ERA that the parties should attend mediation. 

A provider does not need to have a full grant of legal aid to claim this fee, as the ERA requires a Statement of Problem to be filed to issue a direction for the parties to attend mediation.

Update on Legal Aid Services response to COVID-19 (15 February 2021)

15/02/2021 - On behalf of Legal Aid Services I would like to update all legal aid providers on our response to last night’s announcement of a return to COVID-19 Alert Level 3 in Auckland and Level 2 nationwide.

Certain changes to Legal Aid policies which previously applied under Alert Level 2 will apply nationwide. This means that:

  • Legal Aid will accept any applications that haven’t been signed by your client. Please sign any forms on their behalf and state the reason for not being able to obtain the signature and note this when submitting the form.

  • Providers who are working from home may claim expenses for travel between home and the Court, a place of detention or a Parole Board hearing venue where:

    • the distance is greater than 50 kilometres, or

    • the return travel time is greater than one hour.

    • This policy will only be available for one claim per day where an in-person appearance is required, and will also apply to Duty Lawyers.

  • Legal Aid will be processing invoices from providers where preparation for a hearing/trial was undertaken and the event was not able to go ahead due to the changes in COVID-19 Alert Levels. These invoices can be submitted as normal and will be paid if appropriate.

The Auckland Region is currently at alert level 3. In response, for those areas where Alert Level 3 applies, we are also re-instating relevant Legal Aid policy and process changes:

  • Additional Fees due to COVID-19 Activities:
    There may be additional services required because of the COVID-19 rules. For example, in family cases we understand you may have assisted with negotiation of care arrangements. In criminal cases, adjournments may have required additional communications with your client, the court and other agencies.

    Where additional services have been provided to, or on behalf of your client, because of the lockdown we will approve up to 2 hours at your legal aid rate for the case without needing an amendment to grant.

    Your invoice should briefly describe the additional services and reference the COVID-19 lockdown.

  • Duty lawyer Payments:
    When a duty lawyer is rostered to be available for the duty lawyer service, he or she may claim a minimum 2 hours, or the actual hours attended, if that is more than 2 hours.

    We also understand that due to some hearings taken place via AVL, duty lawyers may be required to print disclosure or opposed bail paperwork. During this period, we will pay duty lawyers disbursements for printing at the standard rate of $0.10 per page.

We will continue to provide updates via ‘What’s New for Legal Aid Lawyers’ and thank you for your continued cooperation.

Ngā mihi

Brett Dooley, Legal Services Commissioner

Survey for PDLA lawyers to provide feedback on the nationwide PDLA trial roster

10/02/2021- In 2020 the Ministry of Justice (the Ministry) received feedback indicating there may be opportunity for the Ministry to improve timely access to justice by making it easier for Police to contact Police Detention Legal Assistance (PDLA) lawyers.

In response to the feedback, and to ensure there was timely access to justice throughout the holiday period, the Ministry trialed a change to the PDLA service which ran from 18 December 2020 to 11 January 2021. During this trial, PDLA lawyers were rostered in six-hour shifts on one nationwide roster.

The Ministry is currently running a survey to get feedback on this trial from all PDLA providers. A link to the survey can be found below:

Survey for PDLA lawyers to provide feedback on the holiday period trial roster.(external link)

Legal Aid Services will be reviewing how the administration of the PDLA system can be improved in the longer term this year. Feedback given as part of this survey will help form part of this review.

If you are a PDLA provider, we would encourage you to provide feedback on the trial through the survey. The survey closes at 11:59 pm on 24 February 2020.

Returning Offenders (Management and Information) Act 2015

04/02/2021 - We have reviewed how legal aid may be granted for proceedings under the Returning Offenders (Management and Information) Act 2015 (the Act). We have decided to make a change that will allow providers approved for PAL 2 criminal cases, as well as providers approved for general civil cases to be assigned some civil proceedings under this Act. The application for legal aid will continue to be made on the civil legal aid application form.

Civil proceedings

Someone who is subject to a determination under the Act that they meet the criteria of ‘returning prisoner’ may:

  1. respond to an application to the district court by the Department of Corrections to impose or vary special release conditions
  2. seek a review by the Commissioner of Police of the determination that they are a returning prisoner
  3. seek a judicial review of the determination.

A response to an application to impose or vary special release conditions and an application for Commissioner of Police review of a determination are civil proceedings and a civil legal aid application is required. However, lawyers approved for criminal legal aid may also have appropriate experience for these matters. Accordingly, providers who are approved for PAL2 criminal matters can accept cases where an applicant for legal aid wishes to:

  1. respond to a Department of Corrections’ application to impose or vary special release conditions
  2. seek a Commissioner of Police review of a determination that they are a returning prisoner.

A judicial review of the determination that someone is a returning prisoner would require a civil legal aid application and a provider who is approved for civil legal aid.

Criminal proceedings

A breach of a release condition under the Returning Offenders (Management Information) Act 2015 is an offence that is subject, on conviction, to a maximum term of imprisonment of 1 year or a fine not exceeding $2,000. A criminal legal aid application is required and, if eligible, a criminal legal aid lawyer will be assigned on rotation (RO(MI)A(external link))

Legal aid office

Applications should be sent to the legal aid office according to where the proceeding will be run. Applications for civil proceedings in the District Court in the Auckland and Northland regions should be sent to AKLCivillegalaid@justice.govt.nz. Otherwise to WGNCivillegalaid@justice.govt.nz.

Applications for criminal proceedings in the District Court in the Auckland and Northland regions should be sent to AKLCriminallegalaid@justice.govt.nz for. Otherwise to WGNCriminallegalaid@justice.govt.nz.

We have updated the grants handbook which you can read here.

Paternity cases update

04/02/2021 - To provide further clarification, there have been changes to legal aid policy regarding paternity cases.

See the changes below:

The legal aid application must provide evidence sufficient information of a dispute, that if not resolved, will require Court proceedings. The application must enable an assessment to be made of whether there are reasonable grounds for a party to take or defend a paternity proceeding. It is necessary that the information on the application summarises the dispute in a way which  enables an assessment to be made of whether there are reasonable grounds for a party to take or defend a paternity proceeding.

Such evidence information is likely to include:     

  • The identity of the putative father
  • Whether or not the putative father accepts he had sexual intercourse with the applicant about the time of conception
  • Whether there is any corroborative evidence to establish that the putative father was in a relationship with the applicant about the time of conception
  • Whether or not the putative father agrees to undergo DNA testing
  • Steps the legal aid applicant has taken to contact the putative father and ask these questions
  • Whether an application to the Court may be required…

This is an update to the paternity cases information posted on 22/10/2020 - Paternity Cases.

Temporary closure of Te Kuiti District Court

29/01/2021 - The Ministry of Justice has announced that Te Kuiti District Court is to be closed temporarily while repair work is carried out. The court will be closed from Monday 1 February 2021, and reopen on Monday 1 March 2021. While the court is closed, cases will be transferred to Te Awamutu District Court.

Travel disbursements

Our normal travel policies will continue to apply. Travel costs for legal aid providers who must do additional travel during this  period will be assessed on a case by case basis.

Criminal legal aid applications

When completing criminal legal aid applications, we ask that Duty Lawyers please specify Te Kuiti District Court on relevant application forms rather than the temporary court where the case has been transferred to. This is to enable grants staff to correctly assign providers from the Te Kuiti assignment lists.

Assignment of Cases

Providers on the assignment lists for Te Kuiti District Court will continue to be assigned cases on a rotational basis as per current practice. Please notify us at WGNCriminallegalaid@justice.govt.nz if you are unable to accept a newly assigned case.

Duty Lawyer Service

We will contact duty lawyers directly about any changes to the duty lawyer service roster.

Thank you for your co-operation.

Mileage rate increasing to $0.82 per km for invoices received from 1 February 2021

29/01/2021 – We are updating our mileage rate to align with the IRD rate. The new rate is $0.82 per kilometre for all vehicles.

To allow the new rate to be claimed as soon as possible, it will apply to all legal aid invoices received from 1 February 2021. However, to mitigate unnecessary administrative work, claims received after 1 February 2021 at the old rate can still be processed as claimed.

If you are using the Word template forms, please update the mileage rate. After the new rate has been recorded once, it will remember that going forward.

Wellington Legal Aid office closed Monday 25 January 2021

The Wellington Legal Aid office will be closed on Monday 25 January 2021, for Wellington Anniversary day.

Please send all applications serviced by the Wellington region on this date to WGNCriminallegalaid@justice.govt.nz as usual. Please email all applications as the fax machine will not be accessible during this time.

The Auckland Legal Aid office will process urgent criminal applications for all areas of the country received on this date.

The Contact Centre will remain open from 8am – 5pm. If you have an urgent Legal Aid query on 25 January, you can call 0800 2 LEGAL AID (0800 253 425).

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