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Criminal cases: Legal Aid and other legal help

Free advice when you’ve been arrested: The PDLA scheme

Overview of the PDLA free advice scheme

If the police have arrested or are holding you, you can get free advice from a lawyer – usually over the phone – under the Police Detention Legal Assistance scheme (PDLA).

New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, s 23(1)(b); Case: [2017] NZDC 7387

Under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, everyone who is detained by the police must be told of their right to talk to a lawyer. The police must give you every reasonable opportunity to get advice from a lawyer, and must do what’s reasonable in the particular situation to assist you having that right.

If you later apply for Legal Aid to pay for a lawyer to represent you, you’ll probably be assigned the lawyer who spoke to you under the PDLA service (if they do Legal Aid work). You can ask specifically for that lawyer when you apply for Legal Aid.

Talk to a lawyer before answering questions!

Although it’s up to you, it’s almost always best not to say anything to the police before you’ve had the chance to talk to a lawyer.

For more about dealing with the police when they’re asking you questions, see the chapter “Police powers”.

When can I talk to a lawyer for free under the PDLA scheme?

Police Detention Legal Assistance Service: Operational Policy (2021)

You can talk to a PDLA lawyer for free whenever the police:

  • have arrested you, or
  • are holding you under some legal power without arresting you – for example, if they’re searching you for illegal drugs or weapons (see the chapter “Police powers”, under “Search powers”).

Sometimes it might be unclear to you if the police are holding (“detaining”) you. If you’re not sure, just ask them “Am I free to go?”. If they tell you you’re free to go, you can just leave. If they tell you you’re not free to go, then you have the right to talk to a lawyer under the PDLA scheme.

The PDLA scheme doesn’t cover people held by other government officials like the Customs Service or Immigration NZ – it’s only about the police.

Do I have to show I can’t afford a lawyer?

No. The PDLA is available to anyone who doesn’t have a lawyer, whether or not they can afford one.

How do I get in touch with a PDLA lawyer?

The police have a list of the names and phone numbers of PDLA lawyers who are available to be contacted day or night, free of charge. These are all experienced criminal lawyers. Ask the police to show you the list.

Will I get to talk to the PDLA lawyer face-to-face?

Usually the lawyer will talk to you over the phone – this happens 95 percent of the time. In some more complicated cases, the lawyer may come to you and talk to you in person.

Whether you’re talking to them over the phone or face-to-face, you have the right to talk to the lawyer in private.

Young people and the police

Young people can use the PDLA scheme – there’s no minimum age.

Oranga Tamariki Act 1989, ss 215-218

If you’re under 18, and the police want to question you about an offence they suspect you’ve committed, they must first explain that you have:

  • the right to talk to a lawyer, and
  • the right to see a nominated adult, which can be either a parent or another adult of your choice.

You have the right to talk privately with the lawyer and with your nominated adult.

The police must also contact your parents or caregivers to tell them that you’re being questioned or have been arrested.

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Legal Aid and other legal help

Where to go for more support

Community Law


Your local Community Law Centre can give you free initial legal advice, help you apply for Legal Aid and find a Legal Aid lawyer, and may be able to provide ongoing legal help, depending on your situation.

Find a family lawyer


This New Zealand Law Society website will help you find a family lawyer in your local area.

Find a Legal Aid lawyer


This is an online database of Legal Aid lawyers.

Public Defence Service


This website provides information about the Public Defence Service. They can represent defendants in criminal cases where Legal Aid has been granted.

Ministry of Justice


Information about Legal Aid and other legal assistance schemes. Legal Aid forms are also available online.

Applying for Legal Aid


This page has the Legal Aid forms in PDR versions that you can download and email to Legal Aid.

Phone: 0800 253 425

Legal Aid Tribunal


Information about the Legal Aid Tribunal including what types of decisions that can be reviewed, how to apply and what type of information you need to provide.

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