ACC looking poor to UN

Peter Sara
Peter Sara
Our failure to live up to international obligations over legal aid support for ACC-related reviews and appeals is a "matter of intense embarrassment" for New Zealand.

That comment came yesterday from experienced Dunedin ACC lawyer Peter Sara.

A United Nations monitoring committee, considering New Zealand’s compliance with its international obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, recently asked the  Government to comment on two ACC-related matters.

These focused on legal aid and adopting a "human rights approach", so that ACC processes were "fully accessible to all claimants".

The committee also asked the Government to "ensure full access to judicial remedies, particularly of persons with disabilities, with scarce economic resources".

Current regulations appear to limit legal aid support to take a "review" case over an adverse ACC decision to about $700-$1000 in many cases,  even when the review is successful, or reasonably brought.

But some lawyers say that hiring a specialised lawyer to support a client’s review often costs about $5000, and could be considerably higher.

Mr Sara said that legal aid support for ACC reviews and court appeals had long been inadequate.

He hoped the Government would provide fairer support before the UN effectively called us in to "the headmaster’s office" to explain.

Denise Powell
Denise Powell
Dunedin-based ACC claimant group Acclaim Otago has welcomed these two UN questions and their legal aid, human rights and limited income focus.

Acclaim spokeswoman Dr Denise Powell was "delighted" with the UN approach, which  provided a "positive springboard" for considering wider ACC issues.

Inadequate legal aid was a barrier to justice for some ACC claimants and the human rights focus would help ensure real support was provided for ACC claimants with limited means, she said.

Subject to funding availability, it was hoped Acclaim Otago would again be represented at the formal "examination" of New Zealand’s compliance, in Geneva, next year, as it had in 2014, Dr Powell said.

ACC principal adviser customer issues Nick Maslin said ACC could not comment on legal aid questions, which were "better directed to the Ministry of Justice".

The response to this UN convention was led by the Ministry of Social Development. ACC would contribute what its part was in "delivering to that convention" but commenting on specific issues now would pre-empt the "final response", he said. 

After feedback from clients and expertise from the advocacy and disputes resolution sector, ACC would give more clients access to "free support to raise and resolve disputes".

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