Andrew Little |
Thursday, September 19, 2013 – 16:03
A move to slap interest charges on people with a legal aid debt will, in most cases, punish them for being poor and accessing state assistance, and may even be unlawful, Labour’s Justice spokesperson Andrew Little says.
The government’s Legal Services Commissioner has written to people with a legal aid debt telling them that unless they pay the debt off before next March an eight per cent interest charge will be added to their bill.
“Many of the people affected are women who used legal aid to obtain orders to protect themselves and their children from an abusive environment, and so the community has already benefitted from their action.
“They received legal aid because they are, as the Legal Services Act says, ‘people of insufficient means’.
“To charge them a level of interest that is several times the present rate of inflation and considerably higher than retail mortgage rates just seems punitive.
“I have written ( letter attached) to the Legal Services Commissioner about the way his office has handled this issue, as I think he is acting unlawfully.
“Ultimately, however, setting the rate of interest is the Cabinet’s responsibility and it is Judith Collins who is accountable for deciding on such an extortionate rate.”