Bill: Lawyers must work free or pay

All practicing attorneys in the Cayman Islands would be forced to work a certain number of hours for free or pay an annual fee of $2,500, according to a draft of the Legal Aid and Pro Bono Legal Services 
Bill, 2012.

The draft bill was made public by the attorney general’s office
 last week.

According to a summary of the proposal, every attorney-at-law in the Islands to whom a practicing certificate has been issued “shall render pro bono legal services to persons in accordance with this legislation”, or face discipline under the territory’s 
Legal Practitioners Law.

Attorneys can have their requirement for pro bono services discharged by annually providing at least 25 free work hours at the request of the court system’s director of legal aid services or by paying an annual fee of $2,500.

“A practising certificate shall not be issued to the attorney-at-law unless such a fee has been paid,” according to the draft bill. “The fee under this clause shall be used by the government in defraying the cost of providing legal aid services in the Islands.”

Right now, legal aid services – providing attorneys to poor and/or indigent defendants; mainly in criminal cases – costs the Cayman Islands roughly $1.8 million per year. The money is controlled by the Ministry of Finance under the law, but the courts administration office handles the assignment of 
legal aid cases.

In practice, only a handful of attorneys routinely provide legal aid services to criminal defendants within the Cayman Islands. They are paid a set fee of $125 per hour.

The draft proposal would allow legal aid to be granted in criminal cases where indictments have been issued, summary court trials where an offence is tried either by way of criminal information or by indictment, certain civil proceedings and in criminal court appeals.

Legal aid payments in civil proceedings would not be made to non-permanent residents in the Islands, except in cases involving immigration matters, human rights cases against the government or certain family law proceedings.

The draft bill also seeks to set limits on the amount legal aid attorneys can be paid and how often they take cases paid for on the public dole.

According to the bill, the legal aid director – who is to be appointed by the deputy governor – shall not authorize any expenditure in a single legal aid matter “in excess of $20,000”, without the prior written approval of the chief officer of the government Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs.

The legal aid services director is allowed to enter a limit on the roster of legal aid lawyers as to the number of proceedings any attorney can act upon in a given year.

“Foreign counsel” are only allowed to assist locally-based lawyers in legal aid cases where the work is “complex” and where efforts to find qualified local attorneys have proved fruitless. “Foreign counsel” means only attorneys operating outside the jurisdiction, not those who are foreign-born, but live here and are licensed to practice in Cayman.

The bill also attempts to set limits on how much one attorney can earn in a year from legal aid cases: “No attorney should, except in certain circumstances, be paid more than $80,000 in a financial year”, according to a summary of the proposal.

The draft bill also sets out general parameters for individuals who are able to receive legal aid assistance. If a defendant or applicant for legal aid has a disposable income of less than $12,000 per year, a legal aid certificate may be granted. However, if that person has “disposable capital” or more than $16,000 per year they “shall be refused” a legal aid certificate.

Individuals who are granted legal aid may, in some instances, be required to pay some or all of the amount back to the government. However, the draft bill states in certain instances the attorney general may waive the debt if it would cause “serious hardship” to the person or if the cost of recovery the amount is more than what the person owes.

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8 COMMENTS

  1. I’m looking forward to collecting my free food from Kirks, my free petrol from Esso, and my free drinks from Royal Palms.

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  2. This is one Bill that benefits the country. Lawyer fees are simply ridiculous – as excessive as 300 to 400 an hour in certain cases! They may contribute to charity and what not, but it is time they are called to help the community doing what they are trained to do. Single mothers seeking custody, elderly suing kin for theft of pension funds, etc.

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  3. Really….
    i) Why not just add this 2,500 per practitioner to work permit or practising certificate fees, because that is what this boils down to – – nothing more – but of course it would be poor publicity to simply increase permit fees and drive more business away so they masquerade it as payment in lieu of charitable work (which most of us already undertake in other forms where we are more qualified to give support eg Big Brothers Big Sisters/Meals on Wheels). 25 hours x hourly rate (an average rate is say 500 per hour) is 12,500 – so of course the incentive of the draft legislation is just to collect the extra 2,500 fee per practitioner on a cost/benefit analysis to the firm;

    ii) May we advise the beneficiary of the pro bono advice on areas we are experienced in only? For example how to structure a multi-million dollar finance transaction? My knowledge and interest in crime/matrimony/local property/family is zero and 25 hours of ‘service’ might be about 50 hours with learning new subjects/laws (which, as all time must be recorded and charged to the public purse, can hardly be called efficient use of the legal aid fund). After 25 hours can we hand the baton over to the next person – surely multiple lawyers keep picking up the same file, familiarising themselves with it and the client, possibly changing views and advice from the prior attorney is not efficient or a beneficial service – And, add these minimum 25 hours to an already onshore-level billable hours target;

    iii) Are the employers expected to cover this on their insurance? Clearly having inexperienced lawyers advising individuals on areas they know nothing about is a further firm risk- how will this work if multiple lawyers deal with the same case?;

    iv) May the practitioners forced to do this and the firms they work at, demand the receiver of advice signs a negligence waiver because it will be needed in some cases?;

    v) So the fees go to offset the legal aid fund costs? Many, many years ago during my training at the Bar I witnessed one member of the legal profession (your sort of high-street solicitor) abuse the legal aid system – take ridiculous cases to court, dragged out the legal aid cases so as to keep receiving funding from legal aid. Disillusioned this was the very reasons on qualification I removed myself far away from small private-individual litigation matters. Call me a cynic but this happens still, even here in Cayman and if the legal aid fund swells 100% of each fee (I am sure most of it will be lost in unaccountable ether) – then incentive for abuse increases.

    If legislation passes in current form – then I want the money from my fee to go to real charitable causes such as improving education of children and to tackle at grass roots the reasons the legal aid fund is maxed out.

    Education knowledge eagerness = Opportunities, whilst children who leave school lacking basic educational skills/social skills/drive often find that they cannot get the experience they need to progress, they lose hope, become desperate and turn to crime, but at least they will have free legal representation, maybe a successful defence and the cycle starts again.

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  4. There are several reasons why this is a very bad idea:

    1. It is illegal and a violation of human rights to force anyone to do free labor.

    It was a violation of the Geneva Convention to force prisoners of war to perform slave labor. This is not much different.

    2. The vast majority of lawyers working here are in corporate law. They have no more idea about criminal law than you and I have.

    3. Laywers already pay some 30,000 a year for attorney work permits.

    4. If they are forced to work for nothing what quality of work will they turn out? What quality would YOU produce if forced to work for nothing.

    5. Why are they the only high paid professionals being forced to work for free? How about doctors? Accountants (please come and do my bookkeeping free)? Bankers?

    6. If they are forced to work for 25 hours per year, what if the case they are working on takes longer than that?

    7. What happens when they have already done 24 1/2 hours work and they are given another case/

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  5. LEGAL SATIRE

    Three brothers all professionals went fishing one a Doctor, one a lawyer the other a Pastor. They were catching fish left and right but sharks were gathering around their boat but hey continued fishing and discussing the topics of their professions and what is in the news on the Island. The lawyer asked the Pastor if he had taken Nation Building money. The Pastor replied he had because the church needed a new roof and other repairs.
    The Doctor chimed in and said that taking government money for repairs to the church was a sin. The Pastor said that he was wrong and to show it to him in the good book. The lawyer said in other countries the church could be sued. The Pastor said that we are not in another country so that’s the end of it. Just when the Pastor was cutting a piece of conch he cut his hand. He washed it over the side of the boat and that really agitated the sharks. There were Hammerheads, tigers, white tips, black tips even sand shark were circling the boat. They were very concerned and decided to leave. The engine won’t start. They tried and tried but nothing happened.
    The lawyer said that he would swim ashore to get help he didn’t want his brother to bleed to death and the doctor could tend to the Pastor. The Doctor was concerned about all the sharks. The Lawyer said not to worry everything was under control. So he jumped into the water and all the sharks formed two lines from the boat to shore and the lawyer swam between them. The Pastor said it’s a miracle. The Doctor said no it’s professional courtesy.

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  6. Although I agree that some form of charity should be mandatory for all high yield companies. I would prefer to see high ranking government officials take that pay decrease that they so called promised and then back handed us with by not going though with it.

    I know people need to make their money, but if it’s truly for the interest of the country why do we see such lack of house keeping? The true charity should start there. How about surprising me (and that’s very hard to do by the way), individually donate. That would be a shocker. If you are too busy, send it by courier. 😉

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  7. The lawyers would still get paid, what’s the big deal? This is a good bill to consider.
    -Let’s just hope that the audit trail doesn’t waiver, hint hint
    -That people understand the power of referral (bad job = bad rep)
    -This would be great for your CV, some lawyers probably haven’t even done probono before and my understanding is that this is a challenge and a different beast altogether
    -Some people don’t even know that there are probono services available to them

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  8. Longtermresident, I don’t get point #1. You are kind of coming off like a …… Lawyer.
    No one is forcing, you either pay up or work.

    I also believe that our prisoners should contribute towards their keep, if we’re shoving off funds to have them have the basic necessities, they should work for it.
    -Less money spent, should be used on their rehab services
    -The rest of the community would see them and probably help shame them better to deter them from future illegal acts
    -and finally they won’t come out fat out of prison (get your Mind out of the sensitive gutter, lack of exercise is a disadvantage to the mind, development and emotional points)

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