The Waitakere Community Law Centre is under threat
By Greg Presland
The Government is planning to cut funding for Community Law Centres and some appear to be destined to close. It is thought that an 0800 number and internet access will be an adequate substitute for a face to face meeting. They forget that poor people, the ones who will most likely need help, tend not to have Internet access.
The Waitakere Community Law Centre is one of the centres under threat. I think it is important to if at all possible make sure that it remains. It is an extremely valuable resource that achieves a great deal of good.
Following is the text of a resolution that I am submitting to the next WRLB meeting. Feel free to let me know your views and these will be conveyed.
The Waitakere Community Law Centre was established in 2005. Since then it has served the citizens of West Auckland well. It employs four full time lawyers who provide free legal advice to clients. At remarkably low cost the centre provides quality legal advice, representation and peace of mind for many of West Auckland’s citizens. It is also involved in community education and providing legal information to community groups.
In recent times the demand on services has increased. This has occurred because of a couple of reasons. Changes in Government Policy and especially the entitlement to Legal Aid as well as the general downturn in the economy have meant that there is a greater demand for the Centre’s services.
Regrettably the Law Centre is under threat because of proposed cuts to funding. A review is being run by the Justice Department which describes the proposal as “improving access to community legal services”. The proposal however is to cut funding rather than improve access to legal services. To save money it has been proposed that many of the enquiries community law centres currently handle will instead be handled by an 0800 number and some centres will close. There are currently 26 law centers and it is proposed that this be reduced to 10.
An 0800 phone service will not provide an acceptable service. When in a stressful situation people need to be able to talk to someone face to face, show them the relevant papers and discuss the situation with them properly. People need reassurance and confidence in the advice. A once over quickly by phone will not do this.
The service provided by the Centre is important because in a civilised society it is vital that all members of that society, no matter how poor, have adequate access to justice and a cornerstone of that is adequate access to competent legal advice.
The Centre costs money, but if the private sector law firms were asked to provide an equivalent service the cost would be considerably more.
If the Waitakere Community Law Centre is closed then residents wishing to access another law centre will have considerable impediments in doing this . The high level of deprivation in Waitakere clearly shows why retention of the Waitakere Community Law Centre is important.
1. That the Waitakere Ranges local Board notes the important community service that the Waitakere Community Law Centre provides through its current face to face operations.
2. That the Waitakere Ranges local Board urges the Justice Department to continue the existing funding for the Waitakere Community Law Centre to help ensure that all community members, particularly those living locally and with limited financial resources, have adequate access to justice and competent legal advice .
3. That the Waitakere Ranges local Board delegates Local Board Chair Denise Yates to write a letter to the Justice Department requesting that the existing funding for the Waitakere Community Law Centre continues.