A Legal Aid Clinic is being set up in the Cayman Islands, Chief Justice Anthony Smellie announced at the opening of Grand Court on Wednesday in Grand Cayman.
It will be quartered in the Kirk Building, across the street from the Court House in George Town. Space has already been allocated.
The clinic will provide advisory and pre-court service to persons who qualify on a means-tested basis, he said. A further benefit will be training for law school students undertaking the legal practitioners’ course.
The chief justice said 454 applications were made for legal aid last year – 209 involving criminal matters and 245 for civil matters.
He began his remarks by welcoming “the wise and appropriate decision of the government to relinquish the budget for legal aid back to the courts”.
For the 2010/11 budget year, some $1.85 million for legal aid was moved from the courts budget to the Ministry of Finance, Tourism and Development. The move was reversed for fiscal 2011/12 (Caymanian Compass, 23 June 2011).
As a result, fee invoices are being processed on a more regular basis, the chief justice said. He said he expected shortly to advise on a draft bill already prepared on the subject of legislative reform – part of that reform will involve the setting up of the legal aid clinic.
The viability of the clinic will depend on the willingness of attorneys to give their time to work with lecturers in supervising the students, and overseeing and appraising their work with clients.
“I therefore take this opportunity to urge members of the profession to volunteer for service in the clinic,” the chief justic said. “[It] will provide a great opportunity for service to the public, and while concerns such as may reasonably arise over professional indemnity cover will have to be addressed, I can report from the experience in other jurisdictions in the region, that the legal aid clinic has proven to be a very successful way of achieving for the profession, the dual objectives of practical training for lawyers and service to those members of the public who are in need of legal services but do not have the means to pay for them.”
He welcomed the declared intention of the Caymanian Bar Association expressed by president Dale Crowley to facilitate the training of the Caymanian lawyers.
When Premier McKeeva Bush originally proposed changing the legal aid system from the “judicare” model to a Legal Aid Services Office, it was intended that the office would “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”.
Budget documents stated the office was also intended to provide training for young lawyers.