Upset as legal aid bill to charge interest
A Timaru man paying off his legal aid bill at $5 a week is upset that from March he will be charged 8 per cent interest.
In November 2009, Scott Keown faced a charge of assault. He initially pleaded not guilty but, following an evidence depositions hearing, was offered diversion.
He was given legal aid and accumulated a bill of $9000, as he had initially planned to challenge the charge.
“One of the witnesses didn’t turn up and they offered me diversion. If I had fought it, it was going to cost me a lot more so I took the diversion.”
He had been paying it off at the minimum of $5 a week, opting to do that as he had been told it would be interest-free. He also had to pay $4000 reparation to the victim and paid that off at $50 per week
This month Mr Keown got a letter stating he would be charged 8 per cent interest from next March. He currently owes $5500 and is one of 50,000 people affected.
What many do not realize is that Legal Aid is a loan. You have to pay it back and the Government’s plan to charge 8% interest as a penalty on Legal Aid is an abomination, especially when you consider that’s a penalty rate far above the inflation rate.
The Government intend to make a profit off the legal aid debt, just consider how appalling that position is.
It’s an outrage that Legal Aid is a loan and that its eligibility is set so low that anyone earning the minimum wage wouldn’t qualify. The thresholds need to be significantly lifted and Legal Aid should be seen as a cost of a socially just society and not a user-pays loan to make a profit off.
Those who take Legal Aid so that they can defend themselves with the cheapest lawyer Legal Aid will pay for are now going to have to pay a crippling 8% interest on top of that debt. What are the ramifications of policy as brutal as this? The working poor and beneficiaries face either a life of poverty if they are brought before the Courts or they simply choose to plead guilty rather than face a life of debt servitude.
We have the money to pay the richest NZers billions in tax cuts but we don’t have the money to properly fund Legal Aid so that the poor can obtain Justice when the Police use their vast new spying powers to charge them.
The only people happy with this are the Private Prisons who will be waiting for the new influx of prisoners too poor to plead innocent.
Justice is blind and just became bankrupt.
Welcome to NZ 2013.