Principal Investigator: Dr Bridgette Toy-Cronin
When people need help with a legal problem, they are often under both financial and emotional stress. Finding the right kind of help in these circumstances can be difficult for anyone and for those with very little money and few connections, the struggle can be overwhelming. This project examines the availability of free or low cost legal services.
Related centre objective
"To carry out research on legal issues relating to how a more accessible, affordable and efficient legal system can be created for the benefit of all citizens."
The pilot report for this project was released in May 2018: The New Zealand Legal Services Mapping Project: Finding Free and Low-Cost Legal Services Pilot Report (PDF 1.234MB). This report concluded that there were significant barriers to accessing legal representation in civil legal disputes. Many people cannot afford private legal services and need to access free or low cost services.
Legal aid is a low cost service but its availability is restricted both because the eligibility criteria and the limited availability of lawyers working on the scheme.
Community-based services have emerged over time in an attempt to bridge this gap.Seven free community-based legal organisations were identified in Auckland, and four in Otago. However, the majority of these organisations only offered information and advice, with very limited free or low-cost representation services.
People are therefore often left with the choice of either abandoning their claim or defence or representing themselves. The position of small business owners is worse as a company can’t get legal aid, only an individual, and most community providers won’t provide advice to companies either.
Survey and interviews
The next phase of this study explored why some legal aid providers no longer offer civil legal aid services – or only do so on a limited basis – and the scope, availability and accessibility of low cost legal services and pro bono. We have surveyed and interviewed members of the profession to investigate what types of work lawyers consider to be pro bono, and to clarify the extent to which such services are performed. The survey explored other ways lawyers contribute to filling the justice gap or why they are unable to do so.
We are currently analysing and writing up the findings from the survey and interviews that we conducted with New Zealand lawyers.