National | Tikanga

Māori lawyer pushes for more resources to meet the need for legal aid

The new clinic is incorporating whakawhanaungatanga and manaakitaanga to its practice.

Free legal clinics offering advice and aid are struggling to keep up with the demand from the community accessing their services.

Keegan Jones (Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Porou) is a commercial lawyer based in Whangārei who launched a free legal clinic a month ago with Hihiaua Cultural Centre Trust and the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).

He said despite the clinics running fortnightly, the clinic was always fully booked.

“As we can see at the moment the clinics are getting fully booked each time, which is good but also daunting given there is clearly a real high need for legal information as well as potentially legal aid.

“The clientele we are seeing are dealing with a lot of family law or criminal law or raruraru (problems) so these clinics are a first step for our people to come and have a kōrero before they make the next step in their legal journey.”

Jones said it took him five years through law school to get past confusing legal jargon and it could be challenging for people to navigate the legal world.

First port of call

“I don’t expect someone who hasn’t even gone to university to understand what these legal words might mean... We’re the first port of call to really help identify those legal issues.”

He established the clinic to break down the stereotype that lawyers had “intellectual superiority” by incorporating whakawhanaungatanga and manaakitaanga.

“I want to get to know my client, who they are first, where they’re from and who their whānau are so they can feel they can at least share some of that raruraru (problems) they might have.”

He said it would benefit Māori if lawyers incorporated tikanga principles in their practice.

“It should be completely embedded in the training for lawyers but in saying that we need more lawyers.”

Jones said within the criminal law specialty, the system was overwhelmed because there weren’t enough lawyers to keep up with the demand.

More Māori lawyer volunteers needed

“When I’m making those referrals for my clinics, I’m really struggling to find a lawyer who might be able to take that clinic client on.”

To keep up with the demand, he suggests law students should build their knowledge in the hope of giving back to their communities.

“I would love more Māori lawyers to be like ‘I’m going to volunteer for my marae and I might even start a legal clinic and run it out of my marae’.” he said.

After he had established the first clinic, many lawyers reached out to him for advice on how they could start their own clinic.

“My key driver for these people in talking to then is collaboration is key. Talk to your local iwi. Talk to your local mana whenua if they have a trust or premise that they can provide. Talk to them and see if they will be willing to partner with you.”

Jones is in the process of setting up a website where people can book in appointment times and is hoping to open more clinics.

Te Rito