Gov’t should allow paralegals to handle certain cases

At the opening of the Grand Court on Wednesday, 15 Jan. 2020, both Chief Justice Anthony Smellie and Attorney General Sam Bulgin made reference to persons who are not lawyers giving legal advice and drafting legal documents. Significantly, Mr. Smellie is reported to have asked Director of Public Prosecutions Patrick Moran, who was present, to take action.

But the real issue is what has contributed to this trend. It is in large measure due to the fact that most people cannot afford lawyers’ fees. In particular, since legal aid is not available for divorce cases, many people have resorted to using either current or former serving officers in the judiciary to help them during their challenging times.

The Canadian province of Ontario faced somewhat similar problems. Thus, about 10 years ago, the response of the provincial government was to recognise the desperation of people and to allow paralegals, who charge much less than lawyers, to practise on their own in limited areas.

This alleviated some of the problems. However, divorce cases have posed a new challenge. It was reported on on 18 March 2019 that more than 57% of Ontarians did not have legal representation in family court in the period from 2014 to 2015. This led to a recommendation, still under consideration when I last checked, that paralegals be allowed to handle simple divorces. Other developed commonwealth countries have also implemented systems where persons who are not lawyers can undertake conveyancing and probate matters without the supervision of lawyers.

Naturally, some lawyers will not welcome this. The same is taking place in Ontario. The way I see it, the overwhelming number of people who resort to using non-lawyers on the sly, or who would use paralegals, cannot afford lawyers anyway. So any loss of business by lawyers would be negligible.

Accordingly, I urge the government not to compound the problem but to recognise the problems of legal representation in the Cayman Islands and solve the problem for the benefit of the whole society.

Bilika H. Simamba
Attorney at Law

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