Justice inquiry told equitable access to legal aid needed

By Whatitiri Te Wake

The Waitangi Tribunal's Kaupapa Inquiry into the Justice system is under way in Porirua and the issue this week is poor access to legal aid for Māori.

Advocates said the lack of funding to access adequate legal advice and support had a range of troubling implications for whānau.

Whānau Ora chair Merepeka Raukawa Tait spelled out the effects of inadequate funding to enable Māori to participate in the legal system, even at the Waitangi Tribunal.

“It's not always easy to access justice. Sometimes you've got to jump through hoops. You've got to wait months to see if your application got approved.”

“So all of these things add to the stress that you're feeling because you want to present good information,” she said.

Māori lawyers told the tribunal more funding would see claimants able to access legal advice and even support for travel and accommodation to present their cases to the courts

“Ki te kore te karauna, te ture āwhina rānei e tautoko i ngā kaikerēme, he aha hoki te hua o ēnei nohoanga?”

Beyond legal aid

“If the Crown or legal aid are not adequately supporting claimants, then what's the point in these hearings?” lawyer Te Maiora Rurehe asked.

Kaupare Law's Alana Thomas said the concerns reached beyond access to adequate legal aid but also funding to ensure resources were readily available for claimants who wanted to submit their evidence in te reo Māori.

“Ko te utu o ia haora ki te whakawhiti ki te whakapākeha i ngā tuhinga reo Māori ko te rua tekau mā rima tāra. Kāore taua e mōhio ana ki tetahi o ō tāua hoa e hiahia ana kia tuku i tā rātou katoa ki te whakapākeha i ēnei tuhinga. I te nuinga o te wā he tuhinga ture nei mo tēra utu.”

"The hourly rate to translate written evidence is $25. We don't know which of our friends who are translators to give their all to the translation work, mostly legal speak, for that amount of money.”

Despite the government recently making changes to the legal aid system that will see a further 90,000 people qualify for legal aid support, advocates said more change was needed.

“Everything should be reviewed from time to time. Is it still relevant, is it still doing the job that it was designed for and, if not, get rid of the damn thing,” she said.

The court will hear more submissions until Friday.