Legal aid cash moved to ministry

Some $1.85 million for the
provision of legal assistance to those in Cayman who can’t afford it is now
under the control of the Ministry of Finance, Tourism and Development, according
to government budget documents.

It was unclear from examination of
those records and from speaking with court staff whether that money would be
used in the current fiscal year to create a Legal Aid Services Office, as was
envisioned by Premier McKeeva Bush or if a transitional period would be
required.

A spokesman for the premier said
government was examining the possibility of opening the office in the current
budget year.

Court Administrator Delene Cacho
said staff had not received any instructions regarding legal aid.

Currently, private sector attorneys
who are willing, provide legal help to those determined to be indigent – mainly
in criminal court cases – for a set fee of $135 per hour.

Under the Legal Aid Services budget,
it is noted that the service supplier will be “various law firms”.

Mr. Bush last year proposed
changing the legal aid system from the current “judicare” model, to a Legal Aid
Services Office – similar to a public defender’s office. It was envisioned that
the office would be run by two attorneys and a staff of salaried lawyers who
would assist individuals who qualified for legal aid.

Some changes to the country’s Legal
Aid Law would need to be made to create the new system. The budget refers to
the office, which will “administer advice and representation and offer a wide
range of services, including landlord and employer problems to protection from
gender violence, in addition to defending those facing criminal charges”.

The records also expressly state
that the legal aid office will deal with requests for assistance, “which will
be means-tested based on the applicant’s salary and property ownership”. The
office is also intended to provide training for young lawyers, according to
budget documents.

Opposition lawmakers have
previously expressed concern about the shift of funds from judicial administration
to the ministry of finance.

“The staggering proposition that
the dispensation of funds for legal aid is going to be given to the premier…just
the appearance of the chief executive having it within their remit to decide
who receives funds for legal aid…is very worrying,” George Town MLA Alden
McLaughlin said during a Legislative Assembly Finance Committee meeting in
October.

Mr. Bush said Mr. McLaughlin was
scare–mongering and called claims of the country’s premier dispensing the funds
“rubbish”.

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