Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

New Zealand Budget 2016: Demand of legal aid addressed

Eligibility for civil and family legal aid will be increased using $17.2 million, leaving just $4.3 million over four years for community law centres. Photo / iStock
Eligibility for civil and family legal aid will be increased using $17.2 million, leaving just $4.3 million over four years for community law centres. Photo / iStock

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Community law centres and legal aid will get $76 million in new funding over four years to ensure more people unable to afford regular lawyers' fees will get support.

Most of that money - $54.5 million - will go towards meeting demand for legal aid.

Eligibility for civil and family legal aid will be increased using $17.2 million, leaving just $4.3 million over four years for community law centres.

Associate Justice Minister Simon Bridges said increasing eligibility for civil and family legal aid will help 2700 additional New Zealanders each year by 2018/19.

"Civil and family legal aid helps people apply for protection orders, agree on parenting arrangements, settle employment disputes, and access many other types of court proceedings."

Opposition parties have called for the thresholds at which people can access legal aid to be significantly changed, after reports of more people self-representing in court.

Mr Bridges said the new money for community law centres would effectively meant they would continue to receive the same level of annual support - about $11 million.

In total, the justice sector gets $208.4 million in extra funding over four years, which Justice Minister Amy Adams said was the biggest increase in almost a decade.

The new funding includes:

• $55.9 million over 2016/17 and 2017/18 for the Christchurch Justice and Emergency Services Precinct.
• $19.7 million over four years for Crown prosecutions, which are managed by Crown Law through a network of 17 Crown Solicitors.
• $13.3 million for the Public Defender Service, which represents New Zealanders facing criminal charges.

"This investment underpins the Government's commitment to delivering core justice services and keeping New Zealanders safe," Ms Adams said.

Close to $11 million will fund the new Investing in Justice work. Announced by Ms Adams at the beginning of the month, the work will use Statistics NZ's Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI), which provides recently linked data from the tax, benefit and justice systems.

PricewaterhouseCoopers has been contracted to help develop statistical modelling that could have a big influence on how harsh sentences are.

Early work using the database has resulted in judges being told that in certain cases a fine could be a better option than community work, after analysts found criminals getting the latter were more likely to re-offend and rely on the dole.

- NZ Herald

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