The Court of Appeal in New Zealand has ruled that a planned legal aid shakeup to introduce fixed fees is unlawful.

The government intends to appeal the ruling and has filed an application for leave to the Supreme Court.

The new system, paying lawyers a fixed fee rather than an hourly rate, has resulted in a 10% pay cut for legal aid lawyers.

The case was brought by the country’s Criminal Bar Association, which lost at the High Court, but succeeded on appeal last week when the court ruled that the legal services commissioner, responsible for granting legal aid, could not function independently of the government.

The Auckland District Law Society's vice-president, Brian Keene QC, was reported as saying the judgment is a victory for defendants and their counsel.

He said: ‘The right to a proper defence is a right of all New Zealanders. It must deliver access to justice regardless of financial circumstances.

‘We believe limiting legal aid payments would have limited the way criminal barristers defend their clients, and so result in unsafe convictions.’

Picture: LJ Holden