Today’s Editorial May 25: Legal aid costs out of control

To say that the legal aid system in the Cayman Islands is in a quagmire is an understatement.

The system is definitely in a predicament.

By the time this year’s fiscal budget is finished nearly $1.8 million will have been spent on free legal aid.

While that number is outrageous, the fact that attorneys who have been performing legal services for folks who can’t afford a lawyer haven’t been paid.

The situation of costly legal aid and attorneys not getting paid begs the questions, when did we start sliding down this slippery slope and what are we going to do about it?

There are several reasons why more people are turning to legal aid.

There are more people in the Cayman Islands now than in the past and while crime rates have decreased in the past year, most of those who find themselves in court now were arrested when crime was up.

Too, many more defendants are now insisting on trial instead of pleading guilty; they’re gambling on a chance the jury will find them not guilty or guilty of a lesser charge.

Also take into account the plethora of technology such as DNA testing that can be used as evidence in a jury trial.

And that’s just criminal court.

On the civil side of the judicial system divorce cases have increased, bringing with them cantankerous custody issues.

It is welcomed news that the Cayman Islands Law Reform Commission is taking a look at the legal aid system in an effort to determine why Cayman pays so much for free legal work for indigents.

We sincerely hope they come up with some solutions to reduce the number of people receiving legal aid and shrinking the cost to government, which is actually being paid by those of us who live in the Cayman Islands.

We’re not sure everyone getting legal aid actually qualifies for it.

Government is considering a public defender’s office, which we think would help tremendously with the legal aid problem in the Cayman Islands.

A group of attorneys dedicated to legal aid would help move things along and would be a better tool for budgeting.

As it stands now the Government is paying too much for legal aid.

We hope answers are found, and soon.

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