legal aid is under the spotlight again - well not a very big spotlight at present, but the attention comes and goes. the usual complaints are around the amount of money going to particular lawyers or spent on particular cases. the impression given is of fat cats sucking up taxpayer money. the problem is exacerbated by the fact that most people using legal aid are the poor, who often aren't attractive or well-groomed and are very often brown-skinned. they are people who have often committed ugly crimes related to drugs, murder and/or child abuse. our good hard-working nz middle classes feel outrage that taxpayers dollars are being spent on these losers.
and it's worse if the money is spent on poor migrants, who many think should have no rights to any kind of legal representation at all in this country. in fact, in 1999, migrants lost all rights to legal aid of any kind, except for refugee claims. compare this to the aussies (yes, them with facilities in niue and with the barbed-wire detention centres) offer such services to what they call "vulnerable" migrants. apparently both UK & US do better than us in this regard.
all indications are that the rate paid for legal aid are not excessive, given that they haven't increased since 1996. there are individual cases that have ended up costing millions, such as the zaoui case and the bains case. and it is around these that the protesters make much noise - more around the zaoui case than around the bain case though, because bain does scrubb up to be a nice white boy who grew up in the heartland. the media treated bain like a hero last year, and if he is proven not guilty at his next trial, then i guess he will have deserved it.
with the election coming up, i'm sure the "law and order" brigade will come out making a lot of noise about legal aid and the supposed gravy train. it would be nice if they would face the reality that justice has a cost and it's a cost worth paying. the alternative is particularly ugly, and these very same people tend to be very critical of the tyrannical regimes that they apprarently want to emulate by withholding legal aid from some.
the costs of administering the legal aid system have increased due to a significant change in approach to legal aid, and a change in the threshholds. with the threshholds almost doubling, there will be a large increase in the number of cases, meaning the need for many more trained staff (including retraining of existing staff), for office space and so on. again, it all costs money, but it's money well spent if it means that we all actually are treated equally before the law.