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Criminal legal aid

Introduction to criminal legal aid

Criminal legal aid is where the government pays lawyers’ fees for people who are charged with or convicted of a crime but who cannot afford to pay a lawyer themselves.

New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, s 24(f)

Note: When you’ve been charged with a crime, you have the right under New Zealand’s Bill of Rights to get free legal help if you can’t afford a lawyer and the “interests of justice” require this. The legal aid laws in the Legal Services Act set out the specific rules about when you will or won’t be given legal aid.

Legal Services Act 2011, s 6

Criminal legal aid is available to people who are charged with a criminal offence and who cannot afford to pay for a lawyer to represent them in court.

Anyone can apply for criminal legal aid if they are:

  • a natural person (rather than a business or a group)
  • charged with, or convicted of, an offence, or
  • appearing before the New Zealand Parole Board on certain matters (such as postponement orders, recall applications and orders that an offender not be released).

Applicants do not have need to be a New Zealand citizen or to be living in New Zealand permanently to be eligible for criminal legal aid.

These are examples of criminal matters for which legal aid may be available:

  • assault
  • drug possession
  • theft
  • burglary
  • fraud
  • drunk-driving
  • arson
  • having an offensive weapon
  • receiving stolen goods
  • threatening to kill
  • rape and other sexual offences
  • murder or manslaughter.

    Note: Criminal legal aid is not available for Youth Court proceedings, but the court will appoint a Youth Advocate to represent a young defendant free of charge.

Criminal legal aid is available:

  • for legal advice about whether to plead guilty or not guilty
  • for bail matters
  • to defend the charge
  • to prepare a plea in mitigation
  • to appeal against conviction
  • to appeal against sentence.
The Public Defence Service

Another way the government provides free or subsidised legal services is through the Public Defence Service (PDS). The PDS consists of lawyers employed by the Ministry of Justice to represent criminal defendants who can’t afford a lawyer themselves.

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