Legal aid changes delayed

Proposed changes to the country’s legal aid system, which were announced suddenly by Premier McKeeva Bush a month ago, will be reviewed by a committee and could face delayed implementation.

‘An effective legal aid system is fundamental to the administration of justice,’ Governor Jack said in a statement released Thursday. ‘Access to adequate legal representation and, if necessary, legal aid will be required by the Bill of Rights, which will come into effect in three years time.’

The governor continued: ‘The system needs to be administered as cost-effectively as possible, and the government is entitled to consider how this can be achieved as long as these human rights requirements are met. In doing so, it is important to consult stakeholders.’

Mr. Jack said Premier Bush’s earlier initiative to change the administration of legal aid – the system that provides free legal representation for those who cannot afford to pay lawyers – will now be examined by a committee. That committee will include representatives from the government, legal profession, the judiciary and the governor’s office.

Mr. Bush said the committee review was being done at his own initiative, and said he hoped it would not delay the creation of a Legal Services Office.

In the meantime, the government is required to ensure the current legal aid scheme is adequately funded, ‘so that there is no disruption to the administration of justice through the courts.’

‘Additional funding is being urgently sought in accordance with the Public Management and Finance Law,’ the governor’s statement read.

‘We will cover whatever has been committed,’ Premier Bush said. ‘We will continue to fund legal aid to the best of the country’s ability to do so. But there must be change in the system.’

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