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NZ Maori Council wants overhaul of legal aid

The New Zealand Maori Council is calling for an overhaul of the Legal System to ensure that more equity is placed into the system. Speaking at a Council forum in Wellington this morning the Councils Executive Director, Matthew Tukaki, said that often people who had cases to put were locked out because they did not have the financial means to push back against the system.

“Its not just about the system and whether or not people can access it, its also about the fact many people just do not understand their rights. We get any number of Maori approaching the Maori Council when it comes to all manner of both civil and criminal proceedings and where to access help when something first happens – but there is little out there that actually reaches people to build up their understanding of the system; family court cases, cases where someone may be bailed up or even what happens in terms of representation.” Tukaki said

“It costs about $80,000 - $100,000 if you were try to defend a case by Jury – people have the right to seek trial and have their day in Court; but where is natural justice if you are locked out because you do not have the financial means? Then there are the lawyers who often have to do the work pro-bono and themselves face ruin by unfunded cases – I use the case in respect of pushing back when it comes to court hearings related to the granting of warrants for the uplifting of children into the case of the State. And of course, it’s not rocket science when it comes to the fact Maori whanau are often the biggest losers when it comes to the system.” Tukaki said

“The case of Teina Pora may not have ended in the result it did had it have not been for legal aid and there is case after case that have resulted in wrongful convictions being overturned. In these cases, it wasn’t just about legal aid it was Teina and the countless others knowing what their rights were at the time the cases were being bought.” Tukaki said

“I often wonder what the state of many of our people languishing in prison, of their whanau, would have been had they known their rights. The flip side of course is that there are some pretty high-profile cases that also attract legal aid funding so we need to the find the balance. But an overhaul of the system is long overdue, and we need to find better ways of providing equity in the system while also ensuring its sustainability. One thing I would like to see is greater access by Maori and a campaign that better articulates what they are entitled to and when as well as a dedicated focus on ensuring no-one slips through the cracks.” Tukaki said

Mr Tukaki indicated that the New Zealand Maori Council would be rolling out a resource so Maori knew their rights in respect of the legal aid system at the beginning of April.

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