Legal aid changes are just around the corner, Justice Minister Simon Power signalled today.

Opening a "Costs of Crime" forum in Wellington, Mr Power spoke about how the Government was tackling rising costs in the justice sector, noting in particular the weighty cost of legal aid processes.

The Legal Services Bill, which addresses administrative and quality issues within the legal aid system, was one step the Government was taking to reform the service, Mr Power said.

"But it's very clear we cannot afford to ignore the enormous cost pressures the legal aid system is facing, which is why I will soon be announcing changes to help meet an expected $402 million funding gap over the next five years, while ensuring access to justice is maintained."

Mr Power did not indicate what shape the changes might take. However, he has criticised the previous government for removing the requirement for a $50 contribution from people accessing legal aid.

"That put a rocket under the growth curve for legal aid so we're trying to manage it down to an acceptable level," he told NZPA last month.

Mr Power said today the Government was also looking to reduce crime costs through the prosecutors' service.

The Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill, currently before Parliament, included provisions to free up 16,000 hours of court time and reduce the number of court events by 43,000, he said.

"The monetary benefits are sizeable. It's estimated these changes could result in savings of $24m over a five-year period."

However, stopping crime before it happened was the most important way to drive down costs, Mr Power said.

"This is significant because justice-sector growth is almost entirely driven by demand for services, starting with the police and then the court system.

"Of particular concern to me are district court criminal case volumes, which have increased by 14 per cent in the past five years. Remember that each and every person entering the system triggers an array of services at each stage of the process."

Kim Workman, the director of Government lobby group Rethinking Crime and Punishment, also spoke at the forum, focussing particularly on Maori crime.

"If the Government wants to be successful in reducing crime, it must acknowledge and address the downstream effects of imprisoning the Maori population," he said.

Mr Workman said 40 per cent of all Maori males over the age of 15 years had either been imprisoned or served a community sentence.

"High rates of imprisonment in vulnerable communities break down the social and family bonds that guide individuals away from crime, remove adults who would otherwise nurture children, deprive communities of income, reduce future income potential, and engender a deep resentment toward the legal system.

"As a result, communities become less capable of managing social order through family or social groups. That in turn, sends the crime rates up further."

- NZPA