The Legal Aid system is short on attorneys but those on the roster are working to soldier through the docket, according to Stacy Parke, the director of Cayman’s Legal Aid department.
Ms. Parke, responding to Cayman Compass queries, placed some recent judicial statistics into context.
Chief Justice Anthony Smellie noted in his ceremonial address during the opening of the Grand Court that there are only 27 lawyers, out of more than 800 in Cayman, who are willing to accept Legal Aid criminal briefs.
He also noted that there were only 12 to 15 in earlier years, and Ms. Parke confirmed that fact. Cayman added one new criminal attorney willing to work Legal Aid cases earlier this year.
“There has always been a smaller number of criminal attorneys at the bar,” said Ms. Parke in an email response. “As the Hon. Chief Justice mentioned, the number was around 12 or so in the early 2000s but with the changes in our society and the increase in demand for experienced criminal attorneys, that number has increased over the years. But more experienced attorneys are still needed.”
Ms. Parke expects the number of attorneys working Legal Aid cases to increase slightly over the coming calendar year, but she stressed that the number of attorneys practicing at the criminal bar will never approach the number of corporate and civil attorneys in this jurisdiction.
Justice Smellie also noted that the shortage has played into a backlog of cases before both the Summary and Grand Court, and Ms. Parke said that is particularly true when multiple criminal attorneys are engaged in a complex Grand Court trial. When that happens, there’s a trickle-down effect to the rest of the court, but Ms. Parke said the attorneys on the Legal Aid roster are working hard to provide quality service.
“Our legal aid system seeks to provide the services of an attorney-at-law to persons who are unable to afford one and who have been charged with more serious offenses,” she said. “The reality is the Legal Aid Department works within an allocated budget and with those funds seeks to provide persons charged with certain offenses or who need to take or defend legal proceedings with the means to do so, especially where this relates to their fundamental rights.”
As for the rate charged in Legal Aid cases – $160 an hour – Ms. Parke said there is no timeline to review and change the compensation offered to attorneys. The rate was changed from $135 an hour to the present rate in 2015, and Ms. Parke said the chief justice and the administration are constantly reviewing all matters relating to justice and legal aid in this jurisdiction.
“We remain grateful for the dedication of all attorneys who agree to be on the roster,” said Ms. Parke of the attorneys providing Legal Aid services. “Their services to community and the court are greatly appreciated and certainly not overlooked. However, it is highly unlikely that in any jurisdiction, the legal aid rate will compete with the standard rate charged by attorneys in their private practice. We hear the suggestions and issues raised and will undertake to review the same in due course.”