Legal aid payments to Northland lawyers rise

By Imran Ali

2 comments
More than $12 million in legal aid was claimed through Northland lawyers and firms in the two years ended June 2016.
More than $12 million in legal aid was claimed through Northland lawyers and firms in the two years ended June 2016.

Taxpayers have paid $12.6 million in legal aid to Northland lawyers over the past two years, with the highest paid law firm receiving more than $1m.

Ministry of Justice figures show that 55 lawyers and law firms in Northland were paid $6.2m in the year to June 30, 2015.

For the year to June 2016, 51 lawyers and law firms received $6.4m.

In 2014, Northland lawyers and law firms received $6.1m compared with $7.3 million in 2013.

The Legal Services Agency manages the payments which helps cover legal assistance to people who cannot afford a lawyer.

It is available for people facing criminal charges, and those with a civil legal problem or family dispute (including family matters) that may go to court, as well as for Waitangi Tribunal cases.

The agency also supports community legal services by funding community law centres, education and research.

In the year ended June 2015, Kaikohe lawyer Doug Blaikie received the highest payout at $434,816 followed by Whangarei based Cook Westenra $409,481, Thomson Wilson of Whangarei $315,019, Kaikohe's McKenzie Tarawa Law $306,483, Kerikeri lawyer Catherine Cull $258,956, and Family Law Centre $243,760.

For the year to June 2016, Mr Blaikie again topped the payout at $576,506 and Wills Westenra (formerly Cook Westenra) received $440,735.

Cook Westenra is now known as Wills Westenra Lawyers and specialises in family law, conveyancing, commercial law and trusts.

Thomson Wilson was third at $295,625, followed by Lucy Postlewaight $282,877, Moana Tuwhare $255,930, Family Law Centre, $261,528, Daniel Watkins $250,814, and McKenzie Tarawa Law $228,712.

While the payments are made to an individual lawyer they may not necessarily get all the money because some of the work may be claimed by others in the same practice.

Mr Blaikie said legal aid payments under his name were for four lawyers who worked in his firm and there were overheads such as GST to account for.

He said he had to heavily subsidise legal aid work after the Government made changes in 2012 to how payments were made.

Instead of receiving an hourly rate, legal aid lawyers are now paid fixed amounts for completing stages within each case.

There is no cap on the amount paid to legal aid lawyers for their services.

- Northern Advocate

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