Lawyer apathy threatens rule of law

You know the rule of law is under siege in New Zealand when President of the New Zealand Law Society and defender of the status quo announces “N Z needs strong and independent private bar”, as Jonathan Temm did in last week’s LawTalk.

The wake up call for lawyers was prompted by the recent overhaul of Legal Aid by the judicial lobby, headed by retired High Court Judge and imaginary saxophone player John Hansen. The NZLS is only now asking lawyers to make submissions on what is essentially a fait accompli. That the horse has well escaped the barn before the call was given served only to underscore the lack of legal discipline which eventuates when no independent bar exists in a country.

Among other things, the changes to legal aid require prospective applicants to earn less than the minimum wage and to pay a $100 application fee. The revamp also established the Public Defence Service, creating the bizarre scenario where government-employed lawyers will now be defending the very people the government is prosecuting.

The New Zealand legal system created by Crown judges has long delegated the Crown prosecutorial decisions to private law firms such as Meredith Connell in Auckland. New Zealand now has the completely upside down system where private law firms are prosecuting in the name of the Crown and Crown employees are assigned with defending Crown prosecutions commenced by these private firms.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. Legislation is afoot to limit defence lawyers to defences declared ahead of trial and criminalising breach of name suppression orders by the Courts.