Legal aid costs capped

Skyrocketing legal aid costs in the Cayman Islands will be controlled by requiring attorneys working legal aid cases to accept a yearly salary, rather than an hourly wage.

More details of a proposal to create a legal aid office for Cayman were revealed Wednesday in Legislative Assembly by Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush.

Mr. Bush reiterated earlier statements that he made which indicated the current United Democratic Party government felt costs of providing legal representation for the poor were too high and were being applied too narrowly.

Generally, legal aid is provided only in criminal cases, with a few civil court cases qualifying in matters that involve domestic abuse or disputes over children.

Mr. Bush said government records showed more than CI $13 million had been spent on legal aid cases over the past decade in the Cayman Islands, and said he believed the new legal aid office would significantly cut costs that were now approaching $2 million per year.

Legal aid fees are currently set at $135 per hour.

‘The Legal Services Office will be staffed with salaried qualified attorneys and support staff together with Caymanian law students and graduates,’ Mr. Bush told the assembly Wednesday morning. ‘Those law students and graduates will receive on-the-job experience and training to become the future pool of Caymanian legal aid attorneys.’

The leader acknowledged the major public debate that followed his surprise announcement about legal aid changes the evening of 12 October. He also noted that he had taken a fair amount of criticism over the proposal, but said he intended to carry it through.

Quoting from Machiavelli’s ‘the Prince’ Mr. Bush stated: ‘The reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in those who would profit by the new order.’

The Legal Services Office is expected to be staffed by anywhere from seven to 10 attorneys in addition to other office staff and law students. It is anticipated the costs of the office will be somewhere around CI $1.2 million for a full 12-month period.

From January through the end of the current fiscal year in June, some $500,000 has been budgeted for the legal aid office, and another $300,000 has been planned to take care of legal aid cases now before the court.

The remaining CI $1 million in the fund this year was diverted to other government projects.

Opposition MLA Arden McLean questioned whether the $300,000 would be enough to carry the justice system forward until the new legal aid office could be established.

‘The $300,000 will have to do…for the next two months,’ Mr. Bush said.

Although he did reveal some details of the plan, Mr. Bush declined to release full details of the proposal for the legal aid office that was presented to some LA members by local attorneys Steve McField and Theresa Pitcairn-Lewis. He stated that further information about the office would be made available in the future, possibly in pamphlet form.

Mr. McField and Mrs. Pitcairn-Lewis have both declined to speak to the Caymanian Compass regarding the subject of legal aid.

Read much more on this story in Friday’s Caymanian Compass….