CIG attempts to curb legal aid bill

| 28/09/2015 | 38 Comments
Cayman News Service

Cayman courts, Grand Cayman

(CNS): The government is making another stab at legislation to curb its legal aid bill, despite court rulings and the implementation of the Bill of Rights pointing to a need for more, not less, public money for legal support for those who cannot afford a lawyer. With demands for legal aid growing, the new legislation proposes to cap the amount of money a lawyer can receive in a single case to $20,000. But as well as as trying to cut costs, the law conversely provides for a new legal aid boss and adds to the list of cases legal aid could cover.

The law introduces a director of legal aid, who will be supervising the $20,000 cap, though the law does provide for more cash to be spent in cases that are long or complicated.

However, legal aid lawyers will need to do more in less time if their clients are to get the defence they need as attorneys who take legal aid cases will only be allowed to bill up to a maximum of ten hours each day, except in undefined exceptional circumstances. The legal aid director will also have the power to limit the number of cases any individual defence lawyer can take on legal aid.

The bill falls short of insisting that lawyers do legal aid work pro bono but the new director will keep a list defence attorneys who are willing to do legal aid work and are able to help people charged with criminal offences and, as duty counsel, to attend the police station to deal with arrests and interviews. This is already an issue for many defence attorneys, who say they are often not paid for this work. If the person arrested is bailed and no charges are brought then no legal aid application is made and lawyers have no way to be paid for that time.

Legal aid lawyers are paid $135 per hour, which may be a far cry from the minimum wage but it is still just a fraction of the normal going rate for attorneys, who charge hundreds of dollars an hour. With more people in the criminal justice system, few of whom are able to afford representation, the bill for legal aid has persistently increased, despite government’s efforts to keep costs down, and will be around $2.7 million this year, up from the $1.5 million budgeted in 2010.

An exceptionally unpopular budget provision, it is a necessary one to meet the aspiration in the Bill of Rights for equity before the law. However, the political arm of government is seeking to have more control over the money spent on legal aid cases, which could give rise to concerns about equity and fairness. The proposed bill, which is expected to be debated in the LA next month, gives the minister responsible powers to inform the director of legal aid about policy directions.

CNS has contacted the various legal associations and the HRC and is awaiting a response.

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Category: Courts, Crime

Comments (38)

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  1. anon says:

    The purpose of the Legal Aid System is not actually about the individual it is about society. Imagine for a moment you were a person who was wrongfully accused of something by the RCIPS (which happens more often than not). You were prosecuted by the office of the DPP and you had little or no money. Legal aid ensures everyone can afford the same standard of representation. without it only the rich would be able to afford lawyers who were any good. I know that there are some very good lawyers who do only legal aid work and they do pro bono work too. but there are not that many. without them what would happen to the criminal justice system?

  2. Anonymous says:

    What about when ppl steal from the elderly? Is that allowed legal aide for the family who want to fight against the people who stole it?

    What about from the dead? When ppl steal from graveyards?

    • Anonymous says:

      For the ones that dislike the above I think it is a fair comment. Now my use of legal aide may not be but in my opinion it is good value for money. I would like to use it so I can fight against my neighbor to get the court to tell him to feed his own pets. Right now those little creatures climb over the fence or dig under the fence to come into my yard and eat food I have for my pets. Short of me 1) keeping the animals for ransom 2) starving my animals between main meals 3) keeping them all indoors – I would like a court decision for animal trespassing and theft of food!

  3. Diogenes says:

    Why not just establish a public defenders office. Cheaper and a career track for the unemployed graduates of the law school. Setting up yet another government officer to supervise the private sector doesn’t add any obvious value whilst adding a layer of cost, and putting limits on the legal aid provided will cause it’s own issues in subsequent arguments and appeals about having had a fair defence.

    Pay some people a salary to do the job rather than private firms fees which include profits. I am sure those that can afford to pay will keep the criminal defence firms in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed, whilst public run defence will remover the commercial incentives for extended defences and delays. And it may just level the playing field a little – at the moment the public pays the private sector to put on experts, with enough money to outbid the Crown in the war for talent.

    • Anonymous says:

      Just about everything in your comment is wrong. Haven’t got time to correct it all but two things; 1. The Crown has vastly more money than the defence, and; 2. “criminal defence firms” have a very tight budget to finance their “lifestyle”, whatever that implies, but still pay the same WP fees, T&BL costs and other overheads as the commercial and corporate firms.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I did not study hard to work for free for criminals when I could be making money like everyone else. Anyone that thinks they can make me work for criminals or tax me to subsidize their defense can take a hike.

    • Anonymous says:

      You’re quite right – you shouldn’t.

      By the way – they’re not criminals until they’re convicted. Just members of the public charged with something they say they didn’t do. Wonder how you’d feel?

      • Anonymous says:

        Almost all of hem are criminals whether they are convicted or not. They then become convicted criminals. There are far more criminals than those that are convicted because of the silly limits on evidence and incompetent juries.

  5. Pooh Bear says:

    Winston will be looking for work soon, I’m sure he’ll be willing to assist at a reasonable rate.

    • Anonymous says:

      One of the contributors to the large legal aid bill is the whole matter of the volume of cases being funneled to the courts. Check Bermuda — their courts have a fraction of the case load of the Cayman courts.

      I saw recently a recommendation out of the Claire Wetton report that more must be done to avoid so many cases landing in the courts — that is, pursuing alternate methods of dealing with some offences so they can be satisfactorily dispensed with, rather than clogging up the courts. Are the legislators looking into that?

      Secondly, I agree that more pro bono work needs to be done by these rich law firms — give a little back to the islands that allowed you to become millionaires many times over.

      Instead, the legislators are adding to the bill with the proposed Legal Aid Boss. Do you think we are talking about one person here? He or she will need a big salary — nothing less than $100,000 and upwards. Then he or she will need a deputy, executive officers, clerical workers, etc., and pretty soon you have another half a million and upward in salaries and facilities.

      Let us stop the spendathon and begin to realise that the goose has very few golden eggs left. We have to begin to do our part in solving some of the national problems and government has to become more creative and sensible in addressing the needs — and not just doing the knee jerk throwing more money at the problem.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Other jurisdictions require every attorney to provide a certain minimum number of hours on what would be legal aid work as a condition of holding a practising certificate, and they then can contract out those hours to specialists at their own cost. I believe Jersey does this with the result that there is no need for legal aid funding at all there. This would be a drop in the ocean to the millionaire attorneys of Cayman.

    • cant afford the rainmaker. says:

      Good sense. All those lawyers practicing Cayman law in BVI, Bermuda, Hong Kong… whereever, can start supporting the local population. Much easier than a legal practicioners bill that is going to be a long and hard fight through unfamiliar terrain against a better armed and equipped for.

      Win at least a small battle. Gambling on a solve it all kind of solution hasn’t worked very well so far.

      • Anonymous says:

        You must be joking. No non Caymanian is practicing Cayman Law outside of Cayman. That is an offense under our Legal Practitioners Law and is not something any of our esteemed officers of the court would be party to.

      • Anonymous says:

        Your moniker appears to indicate an underlying bitterness at your inability to prosper in a highly profitable legal market and that would explain why you want to turn this issue into more grubby protectionism for second raters. To paraphrase Frank, if you couldn’t make it here you couldn’t make it anywhere.

    • Anonymous says:

      So a condition of working as a lawyer in Cayman is that you pay for those accused of crime to be represented? And you do this because it is an appropriate obligation for someone in your position. So, naturally, you pay someone else to discharge it for you. Have I got that right? The government directs practising lawyers to pay other lawyers for work done representing accused persons from totally different walks of life in matters completely unrelated to the paying lawyer’s practice of law? That sounds absurd. Nothing more than a convoluted scheme to offload onto lawyers the costs of operating the bottom end of the legal system that the vast majority of lawyers want nothing to do with.

      • Anonymous says:

        Cost free to the public purse. Works in other places.

      • Back to the ol' Drawing Board says:

        OK so Govt just charges all lawyers a practicing fee which in aggregate more or less covers the legal aid bill – say £1,500 per year. Same effect, just wrapped up differently.

        Oh but wait – those practicing fees have to be ring-fenced so they’re not available for anything else and go direct to a legal aid fund. ……which knowing our no-integrity politicians isn’t a likely result, they’ll sniff it out and grab it on some pretext

        … so maybe this idea ain’t so workable 🙁

    • Anonymous says:

      Well that should be a deterrent for certain crimes. I certainly wouldn’t want a hedge fund lawyer defending me for some of the crimes I have considered.

      • Anonymous says:

        They would simply employ a criminal defence lawyer within the firm and keep earning their millions.

    • Anonymous says:

      Are doctors going to have to provide free medical care? Accountants free book keeping? I for one would welcome some free beer in the bars and a free taxi ride home.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Why should the good hard working people have to pay for society drop outs. yes some have a genuine need but not all. We pay 3 and more times, the lawyer, then he encourages an appeal, the prison and then to support their family and on, on, on, it goes. What about the assets be considered first. Yaa tell me about farness, HR, who pays the victim bills?.

    • Anonymous says:

      So a single mother fighting to get her Deadbeat ex to pay child support is a “Drop out” Screw your head on straight. Quality legal representation needs to be for every person in a society to make sure no one is shown favour!. Oh I forgot…… He Hath Founded it Upon Misogyny!

      • Anonymous says:

        In civil matters if the case is not sufficient in value to merit the engagement of attorneys then I find it hard to see why the state should fund representation since costs orders can protect those with a good case.

      • Anonymous says:

        No, what we need is effective active enforcement so mothers do not have to chase deadbeats! The authorities should already have them!

        • Anonymous says:

          Or how about the court put them in jail as they once did before which requires bail of the entire outstanding amount to be released from jail.

          • Anonymous says:

            Jail is so nice, they enjoy it there. I think they should have an ankle monitor on while they go to work. Sleep at the jail at night until they pay all of the money off. Posters should be put everywhere identifying them as deadbeats.

          • Anonymous says:

            I thought debtors’ jail ended with Dickens.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’ve seen this go the other way where the deadbeat father got legal aid to fight the mother asking for the child support!

        Then the legal aid lawyer dragged it out so long that the mother ran out of money and couldn’t fight any more.

      • Anonymous says:

        dead beat dads must be held accountable, but the mama have a responsibility too, having more children do not make the dadas more responsible. dead beat dads are less than 1% of legal aid. what about the injured person that cannot work any more and cannot support the family. do they get Legal aid?

      • Anonymous says:

        What about the deadbeats that use the legal aide to waste time with the mothers?

        It has been done.

      • Anonymous says:

        I think an easier option would be to limit the amount of children one can have, like China, that way you don’t have to worry about having 4 dead beat dads for 4 of your children.

        • Anonymous says:

          Fair comment. However a deadbeat dad doesn’t only refer to lower income reckless set of people. Middle to high income play the same game. Some men are just vindictive and just do not want to pay their portion of maintenance.

          • Anonymous says:

            Many women abuse the system that was set up so many years ago. Now that women have joined the workforce –and birth control frees them from the constraints they were otherwise under–it makes little sense to keep men stuck back in an era that has long passed.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Some competent prosecutions might help reduce the bill, on both sides!

    • Anonymous says:

      …as would some early deportations. Why are some expats getting legal aid on their 4th and 5th offences in Cayman? Why are they not deported after their first?

    • Anonymous says:

      As would juries which represent the national demographic.

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