Editorial for January 17: Time to solve legal aid issue

 

Once again the subject of legal aid
in the Cayman Islands was a point of discussion at the opening of the 2011
session of Grand Court.

Those who spoke expressed concern
that the report from a consultative committee set up in 2008 to review the
country’s legal aid system and come up with alternative proposals has yet to be
made public.

We, too, wonder what the members of
the committee reported.

There are two issues at the heart
of the legal aid debate in the Cayman Islands – the number of lawyers willing
to take on legal aid cases and the lack of allocating funding for legal aid
within the courts’ budget.

Money budgeted for legal aid was
stripped from the judiciary budget in 2009 and put in the Ministry of Finance.

Since then bills have been paid to
attorneys who provided legal aid, but the judiciary appears to be frustrated
that its decisions to grant legal aid could be overridden by the ministry.

In fact Chief Justice Anthony
Smellie in his address specifically urged the executive branch of government to
“allow matters to return to normalcy.”

He also said the dwindling pool of
attorneys willing to take on legal aid cases makes it unfair for those who do
to continue to work in a prolonged climate of uncertainty.

Attorneys who do provide legal aid
don’t make as much money as their counterparts and several law firms now forbid
their attorneys from taking on legal aid cases because it is a loss of an
attorney’s billable hours, which means a loss of income to the firm.

We hope that by the time Grand
Court reconvenes in 2112 the legal aid issue will have been taken care of once
and for all. The need for legal aid will always be with us as long as we
continue to be a jurisdiction where justice prevails.

It’s time to come up with a workable
plan for those who are accused and can’t afford legal representation and for
the attorneys who are needed to represent them. Legal aid is also needed in
civil matters.

Delays in assigning an attorney in
criminal matters affect not only defendants, but also the alleged victims and
witnesses.

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