Legal aid director proposed in new law

| 25/05/2015 | 10 Comments
Cayman News Service

Samuel Bulgin, Cayman Islands Attorney General (Photo by Dennie Warren Jr)

(CNS): The attorney general has said that new legislation currently being drafted to address the myriad issues regarding the provision of legal aid includes the creation of a new position of a legal aid director, who will be based at the courts and decide who gets the public funding for their cases. With more demands on legal aid as a result of the bill of rights and the children’s law, the tab rose to over $2 million this financial year and over $1.9 million has been budgeted for the 2015/16 financial year.

Speaking in the Legislative Assembly Monday, Samuel Bulgin said that a new draft Legal Aid Bill would soon be with Cabinet for approval after several months of concentrated effort to get the draft law finished.

A controversial subject that has often been used as a political football, the legal aid bill has risen in recent years largely due to the rights to equality in justice and the right to representation when detained by police. A recent legal ruling based on the requirements in the bill of rights determined that anyone detained by police who doesn’t have the money for a lawyer must be supplied with free legal advice from duty attorneys before they are interviewed in connection with any allegations of a crime.

At present, only around a dozen or so practicing defence attorneys are prepared to do legal aid work and those lawyers are currently representing people detained by the police on an ad hoc basis and many have complained that they are not being paid for much of the time they spend with clients at the police station. As a result, the system is based on the good will of lawyers to come to the police station and meet with detainees at the risk of not being paid.

However, the new legislation proposes to create a formal duty system, with lawyers available on call to everyone in custody who cannot afford counsel to get access to legal advice before they are interviewed.

“While the current system has served us well we need to try and bring it in line with contemporary thinking and compliance with the bill of rights and the constitution,” Bulgin said as he made his contribution to the budget debate in the country’s parliament.

He said the new bill would clarify the scope of legal aid provision, for criminal proceedings as well as civil and family law cases. such as adoption access rights.

He explained that the revised law, if it passes, would create a dedicated director of legal aid services to run the office, which would be based at the courts. He said the person would be a former lawyer with the requisite experience as they would be deciding legal aid applications and would also manage the list of local duty lawyers ready and available to undertake legal work at the police station.

There was no mention of mandatory pro bono work, which had raised some controversy when it was previously suggested as successive governments have wrestled with the controversies of the topic that is well known as a vote loser for politicians.

While there are around 600 practicing attorneys in Cayman  — a significant number given the size of the local workforce — the vast majority are not involved in criminal defence. Of those that are practicing criminal law, only a handful are willing to work for the $135 per hour paid for legal aid work. While a substantial rate compared to most working people, their peers working in commercial law can easily earn five times that rate, which is why the numbers willing to offer representation are low.

However, the Court of Appeal recently noted that when it comes to leading counsel, Cayman has been able to attract, on a temporary basis, some of the best QCs from the UK to high profile serious criminal cases, even though London’s best silks still only receive the $135 hourly rate.

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Category: Courts, Crime, Police

Comments (10)

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  1. Sharkey says:

    My god help us, a other minister and next year there would still be no legal aid, but a 3 millions $ budget and one more in the club .

  2. Uncivil Servant says:

    You have to spend money to spend money.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Really? we need to pay a Director? God help us… another high paid job for their jamaican friends,………… watch Dep Gov and Gov,

    why can’t this p’job’ be added to duties of Court Administrator or another employee and not as a Director, or will this be another way to ensure only certain people get legal aid so a director is needed who will assess and come up with the excuses for denial, or worse who will monitor this person to ensure no favours with the application of legal rules, payments?

  4. Anonymous says:

    Why is that when we have a problem the answer is to create another post? Why do we need a director to administer the legal aid fund? If that’s the case why not use one of the existing posts within the judiciary? For example, the highly paid Court Administrator which was a post that was created for expediency in addition to the Clerk of Courts who was always responsible for the administration of the courts. There are also at least two existing Clerk of the Courts and the Clerk for the Court of Appeals that only sit periodically.
    Another concern is that were told that the new constitution was to modernize our political and constitutional systems. No disrespect intended Hon. AG but why if this is the case you and deputy governor who are unelected officials still sitting in Parliament and debating the Throne speech?

    • Anonymous says:

      The answer in Cayman appears always to be create a new layer of management. Perhaps its jobs for the boys or effectively a welfare state through job creation. I have no idea but its an issue.

  5. Anonymous says:

    135 an hour ? And some make 5 times that much ?
    Time for income tax ! !
    You make more than 100k a year, you start paying for the less fortunate.

  6. Anonymous says:

    What exactly does this fellow do???

    • Anonymous says:

      Nothing. Nothing pertaining to his job functions, except meddling into matters that don’t concern him and get paid handsomely for doing so! Cayman need a term limit on their AG & CJ.

      The legal aid Office and the aid application process is a joke. Sometimes people are charged twice by attorney’s before the client realizes that his/her legal aid was ever approved. You have some unsigned person [usually just a signature] on behalf of justices revoking legal aid because a client voice dissatisfaction with their legal representation. In my opinion. legal aid in Cayman has always been a questionable process, and obviously costly.

    • Anonymous says:

      Nothing at all if the UDP gets back in power. According to McKeeva when he transferred the legal aid budget into his Nation Building Fund, criminals should not be receiving legal aid.

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