Legal Aid reform

As in New Zealand, the English have just undertaken a review of the Legal Aid system.  Of particular note for Expert Witnesses in NZ and England is the final paragraph of the summary below, which states : “…the Legal Services Commission will be asked to consider changes to payments made to experts in both criminal and civil cases. Currently, the legal aid budget pays different amounts for the same work by different experts and across categories of law. The change would see payments standardised to ensure better value for money.” Assuming that the New Zealand review will also be considering what is happening overseas, including England, it will be interesting to see whether a scale of fees for experts in New Zealand is proposed by the Justice Minister and Dame Beazley.  At present, there is no such fee structure.

Extract from Executive Summary, Reform Document, released 20 August 2009:

“The proposals intend to make better use of the criminal legal aid budget, reform and rationalise payment structures and sustain legal aid for the next 60 years have today been outlined in a consultation paper issued to stakeholders across the legal sector.

The funding reforms outlined in the consultation paper include:

  • Rationalising the rate of pay for barristers in Crown Court cases. On average, barristers acting for the prosecution receive 23% less pay than if they were acting for the defence, which could be creating an incentive for barristers to favour defence work over prosecution work.
  • Stabilising the cost of legal aid representation at police stations. Costs have been driven up by an oversubscription of duty schemes in some areas of the country, mostly in areas with too many firms competing for business. In order to contain these costs and discourage inefficiency, we are proposing a reduction in police station fees in the most expensive and oversubscribed areas.
  • Ending the current duplication of fees which remunerates litigators for preparation for committal hearing but which also remunerates the same litigators for consideration of the Committals Bundle in preparation for trial in the Crown Court. The change will see all working on Committals combined into one fixed fee which will be paid out of the Litigator Graduate Fee Scheme.
  • Ending the anomaly by which practitioners in criminal cases receive a fee for file reviews which does not apply in civil cases. This would see an end to payments for criminal file reviews.

In addition, the Legal Services Commission will be asked to consider changes to payments made to experts in both criminal and civil cases. Currently, the legal aid budget pays different amounts for the same work by different experts and across categories of law. The change would see payments standardised to ensure better value for money.”

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