The Government hopes that proposed changes to the Legal Aid system will improve public confidence and give taxpayers value for money. Legal Aid is available under certain criteria to those who are unable to pay for their legal representation. Its provision is based on the premise that all people should have the opportunity to have legal representation. In 2009 there were 85,156 Legal Aid grants at a cost to taxpayers of $131 million with administrative costs reaching $20.4 million. In late 2009 a damning report on the Legal Aid system was released by Dame Margaret Bazley. The report found a number of issues with the current system that were leading to system-wide failings. Some of these issues were: • cumbersome administrative procedures, • inflexible procurement provisions, which prevent the Legal Services Agency from reducing the administrative burden and taking advantage of efficiencies, • an over-reliance on complaints as a measure of lawyers who were failing to perform, • poor relationships between the Legal Services Agency and the New Zealand Law Society, and • the Legal Services Agency having a strong operational focus, rather than direction setting to ensure legal services are efficient, effective and sustainable. The report found that the Legal Aid system was open to abuse by both lawyers and defendants. It recommended a number of changes that culminated in the Government announcing, on 7 April 2010, a comprehensive package of reforms for Legal Aid services. The changes include: • A requirement that lawyers demonstrate competency, based on objective criteria, to a selection committee to gain accreditation and that lawyers will have to re-apply after a fixed term. • A Performance Review Committee will be established to consider concerns or complaints raised regarding lawyers performance and to impose sanctions. • The functions of the Legal Services Agency will be moved into the Ministry of Justice and an independent statutory officer will grant Legal Aid. • The Public Defender Service will be expanded into Christchurch, Hamilton and Wellington. This will decrease costs by providing criminal legal services through salaried staff rather than contracted lawyers. • Transparency in decision making will be encouraged by the replacement of the Legal Aid Review Panel with a Legal Aid Tribunal. • Consistent standards for all community law centres will be established. • The duty lawyer scheme will be improved by an enhanced selection criteria and by appointing supervisors. • A streamlined eligibility assessment process will be introduced for high-volume, low-cost criminal cases, and • A change to the preferred lawyer process, which will identify when a person can choose a Legal Aid lawyer and when one will be selected for them to ensure that the lawyer is competent for the case. There will be no changes to Legal Aid funding for Waitangi Tribunal claims, however, administrative functions will be improved. In announcing the changes, the Hon. Simon Power MP stated that it is hoped the changes will provide quality services for those who need it, give taxpayers value for money and build public confidence in the Legal Aid system.