Drop in Legal Aid lawyers a concern for the most vulnerable

Since the ‘crackdown’ on the legal aid system last year lawyers have been fleeing from being available to clients who have no other way of paying for their services.

In 2006 the government were told that if they increased the number of people eligible for legal aid, there would be cost increases, the government of the day did allow more people on legal aid, then when the bills came in they ‘freaked out’ and pulled the rug out from under the system.

Over the past year or so the number of legal aid lawyers working in the family courts has halved from over 2,000 to around 1,100. The number of cases hasn’t dropped, the demand hasn’t halved, but the number of lawyers has. This means the family courts will now start to run even slower, with the most vulnerable in society finding it even harder to find a lawyer.

It’s the beginning of having the wealthy be able to ‘buy’ justice, when the poor have no chance. I say that as if it isn’t currently like that…I guess I say that with a little optimism.

Lawyers who currently receive legal aid are subsidizing the tax payer by accepting a lower fee than required. The current legal aid rates are set at 1997 levels, which means the rate paid hasn’t gone up in 15 years and with the new ‘fixed fee rates’ and ‘onerous paperwork’ many lawyers are running for the hills.

Where is the line between the ‘waste’ they we were told about, and ensuring that those that need the help can get it?

If the lawyers are running from the new system doesn’t that mean that those we should be thinking about, the ones who need assistance, will start to fall through the cracks? I agree that there is not a simple ‘one size fits all’ solution, but initial reports would seem to confirm that this National Government has come at this issue with too heavy a hand.

Sanity prevails on the ‘Food Bill’…or does it?

Hey John Key...keep you hands off my carrots!

You may recall at the beginning of January I wrote a post on the so-called ‘Food Bill‘ with some scepticism at the reaction of some thinking things like this was the government trying to help big business copyright seeds…and other interesting claims.

Now I said at the time that it was a new issue for me and I needed to do more research, but my initial reaction was that it was  ‘noise’ that reminded me of the fear mongers over the ‘smacking bill’ claiming good parents will be imprisoned for speaking loudly to their children (yes that is tongue-in-cheek). The rhetoric felt to me unmeasured against the bill, which most hadn’t read.

So it is interesting today to see Brendan Hoare, organic agriculturalist, speaking out today saying basically there is no smoking gun here, there may be bad policy, but the conspiracy theorists needn’t worry.

Hoare, who has worked as an organic agriculturalist and educator for nearly 30 years, says there is no conspiracy; the bill just is a reflection of its writers – people “disconnected, ill-informed and poorly advised”.

Hoare goes on

Hoare is part of an organic farming collective on Auckland’s west coast that includes the sharing of resources between animal farmers, a beekeeper, and fruit and vegetable farmers. “Theoretically now, that is under the microscope. It’s ridiculous. It’s not done out of design. It’s done out of ignorance.”

He said the bill as it might apply to operations such as his own would be impossible to enforce, and there would likely be a revolt against it. “People have written it not understanding that there is a counter-culture that doesn’t want it. They are speaking different languages.”

However this won’t put to bed the conspiracy theorists, there is a famous old saying that goes, “For those that believe no proof is needed, for those that don’t no proof is enough.”

You just need to look at some of the comments online to see that for those that think this is John Key wanting to control your carrots, no coherent, logical point…made from one of their own…will change their position.

Being arrested for using racist taunts…I’m not for it.

In the UK at the moment you can be arrested for using racial insults. Now I find racism abhorrent, the idea that one person believes themselves better than anyone else because of the colour of their skin, or what culture they come from is not only loathsome but ludicrous. Often examples of such cretins who believe in racist theories are plainly at the bottom end of any kind of human ‘ranking system’, which just negates their argument even more, however the idea of being arrested for being a bigoted ignoramus doesn’t sit well with me.

Maybe it comes down to the difference between being a racist, and using a racial slur. Splitting hairs you might say…well I would challenge any person who has not, at some stage, for some reason, put themselves above a person of another race momentarily.  Maybe you’ve rolled you’re eyes when hearing a foreign language at your supermarket and thought, “You’re in NZ now, speak English!” Maybe you’ve been cut off when driving and thought, “Bloody Asian drivers!” Maybe you’ve been extra watchful of a Maori in a public place because, “All Maori are criminals!” Does that make you a racist….or someone who has had a racist thought? Is there any difference?

There are already a couple of examples in English soccer of players being charged with racism, not just by their governing body, but by the police, and the latest example has seen a 20 year old spectator arrested on suspicion of a racially aggravated public order offence.

Now I could go down the extremely weak “freedom of speech” argument, but as we all know there is not such thing as freedom of speech. My discomfort with the idea of being arrested for being a 20 year old moron, who doesn’t understand the issue at hand, is two fold.

Firstly is will not eliminate racism, to me if this is an issue that English soccer is trying to stamp out it would seem more appropriate and perhaps more effective to then ban that spectator from entering any stadiums in the future (however from what I know of the English soccer fan the stadiums may soon be pretty empty in some parts of the UK).

Secondly, and more importantly, I have a concern as to the precedence this is setting. Bigotry and discrimination comes in all forms, against all areas of life. There are 6 main areas of discrimination, none of which are seen any differently in a court of law. You cannot discriminate against race, sexual orientation, gender, age, religion and disability. Of course there are many more such as ‘height-ism’ but these 6 are the main group, and the most common you would see in a court of law. So if in a court of law, these 6 are seen as equally wrong my question is, “Where to from here?”

If this is the precedence that the UK is setting for racism, what is to follow for discrimination and bigotry against age, religion, gender, disabilities and sexual orientation. I don’t know about you but I’ve heard some pretty crass and shocking things shouted out about people in all those categories of life…do we arrest and charge anybody verbally participating in offensive language to all those individuals as well.

Now I realise this is a fairly defeatist post as I don’t have a solution, I think I am just saying that I don’t think you can ‘arrest’ the racism out of people. But then what can you do?

The hubbub on the ‘Food Regulation Bill’

I have to be honest, this is a new ‘issue’ for me, I only really first heard about it last week so am pretty green on the whole thing. I am going to investigate it over the next few weeks and will come back to you, but these are my initial thoughts and explanations to you about the Food Bill (160-2) 2010.

There is concern amongst some that the implementation of this bill with result in regulators turning up to places like farmers markets to ‘regulate’ what is going on. Those that oppose it say it will “seriously impede initiatives like community gardens, food co-ops, heritage seed banks, farmers markets, bake sales, and roadside fruit & vegetable stalls.” Those that support it say it won’t.

There is a petition here for people to sign who are opposed to the bill, but I gotta say you should only sign it if you have done the work to understand this issue fully and not believed the apparent rhetoric coming from either side of the debate.

Those who are in support of the bill are saying that it will make our food ‘point of sales’ safer and cleaner, companies that are putting millions of dollars into developing new seed technology are also in support of the bill as it gives them more security around their patented product.

I have to say one of the more balanced articles I have read is from then Green Party MP Sue Kedgley where amongst other things Ms. Kedgley addressed the concern of small time vegetable operators being captured in this legislation unwittingly by saying that the authorities that will be responsible for implementing the law “will be able to exempt entire categories of groups, such as those engaged in bartering or selling direct to consumers at Farmers Markets from coverage of the bill, and this is their intention.

Isn’t that the end of the conversation?

Maybe not, and here is why.

I have been listening to the rhetoric for the past week…and if you replaced “private citizens with veggie gardens” with the word “parents” then what you’ve got is the anti-smacking bill ‘debate’ all over again. Where people were concerned about the technical possibility of what the law could do, and ignoring the reality of how it will be implemented.

All those parents getting thrown in jail for touching their children’s shoulders hasn’t happened has it?

Sue Kedgley seems to be saying there are some gaps in this legislation that need to be addressed, and it’s likely they will.

However in saying all this I’ll come back to the point that these are just my first meanderings on this issue and I am happy to hear more from you as to what I’ve missed, and what I have right (if anything).