ACC legal aid fixed fee proposal based on flawed data

Press Release – New Zealand Law Society

Ministry of Justice proposals to introduce fixed fees for ACC legal aid are based on flawed data which does not represent the economic reality of ACC legal aid cases, the New Zealand Law Society said today.20 March 2012

ACC legal aid fixed fee proposal based on flawed data

Ministry of Justice proposals to introduce fixed fees for ACC legal aid are based on flawed data which does not represent the economic reality of ACC legal aid cases, the New Zealand Law Society said today.

Commenting on the Law Society’s submission on the proposals, President Jonathan Temm said the level of the proposed fixed fees grossly under-estimated the actual cost of conducting ACC cases.

“ACC cases are generally driven by facts and a wide range of issues can arise. There is often a large amount of medical evidence presented and there is sometimes disagreement between medical experts. Most ACC claims where legal assistance is needed are very complex and take a lot of time to investigate.”

Mr Temm said most ACC legal aid work was done by a small pool of very experienced lawyers, with only 13 lawyers regularly providing aid. ACC legal aid grants were already inadequate, and the proposed fixed fees were an estimated 19.5% reduction on this.

“This small group of experienced and dedicated lawyers already give a big pro bono component to their legal aid work. Add a further big reduction to what they are paid and there is a very real risk that they will do less ACC legal aid or cease to do it entirely,” he said.

The net cost of ACC legal aid was just over $1 million in 2011, Mr Temm said. This was just 0.6% of the total net legal aid cost. With the likely consequences, it was very hard to understand why the Ministry of Justice was proposing radical change in this area.

“The Law Society has spoken out on proposals to introduce fixed fees for ACC, criminal and family legal aid. We are quite aware that the Ministry of Justice has been told to reduce legal aid expenditure by 10%, and we understand the need to control expenditure in difficult economic times,” he said.

“As far as ACC legal aid goes, however, we are looking at a further substantial reduction in reimbursement of costs incurred by a very specialised group of lawyers. This is likely to have far-reaching consequences in ACC claims. Our submission urges the Ministry of Justice to reconsider whether the cost of ACC legal aid is significant enough to threaten livelihoods, access to justice and the quality of legal representation.”

Click here to read the NZLS ACC legal submission.

ENDS

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