About the Public Defence Service
The Public Defence Service plays an important role in the justice system by providing high quality legal services to some of society’s most vulnerable people.
It employs salaried criminal lawyers to defend people facing criminal charges who are eligible for legal aid. It also oversees the duty lawyer service in the courts where it operates.
It is based on an internationally proven model of mixed public/private legal aid provision, and is only being established in courts where there are enough legal aid cases for it to successfully operate alongside the private bar to provide choice and allow benchmarking of quality and cost.
The Public Defence Service has been established at New Zealand's busiest courts, where there are enough criminal legal aid cases to support both the PDS and viable private sector criminal law practices.
History and expansion
The Public Defence Service began as a pilot in the Auckland and Manukau courts in 2004, and has since grown to cover New Zealand’s busiest courts. It is only being established in courts where there are enough legal aid cases for it to successfully operate alongside the private bar.
The Public Defence Service is New Zealand’s largest criminal law practice. It employs just over 170 people, and is led by highly experienced criminal lawyers who have represented clients in New Zealand’s highest courts.
Public Defence Service lawyers have to meet all of the same standards of independence and client service as private sector lawyers.
The Legal Services Act requires the Legal Services Commissioner (who oversees the legal aid system) to act independently when allocating cases to Public Defence Service lawyers, overseeing their conduct of legal proceedings, and managing their performance.
Public Defence Service legal aid lawyers and private sector legal aid lawyers are all paid from the legal aid budget.
Evaluating quality and value
Independent evaluations have found that the Public Defence Service provides high quality, cost effective services, and has had a number of positive effects on the legal aid and criminal justice systems.