AG vows speed on legal aid

| 21/12/2009

(CNS): If the auditor general’s report on the situation regarding legal aid is to add value to the review process, Dan Duguay said his office needs to complete it as quickly as possible. Duguay confirmed last week that he would be conducting an audit to give a better understanding of the financial situation of the current system so that, if changes were made, they would have something to compare them to. However, Duguay will be conducting his audit against a background of controversy following concerns raised by the legal profession about the government’s review, which have been dismissed by the premier.

No audit has ever been conducted of the legal aid system, a point observed by McKeeva Bush in the Legislative Assembly during the last meeting of Finance Committee for the 2009/10 budget, when he made his controversial announcement that he was going to fundamentally alter the legal aid system. Bush announced at the time that he had made the decision to cut the budget and transfer the remaining sums to a line item in his own ministry to establish a legal aid clinic.

Duguay told CNS that he and Chief Justice Anthony Smellie have established the criteria for his audit and he hopes to be able to submit draft findings at the beginning of the New Year to the Legal Aid Review Committee, which was formed recently to examine the government’s proposal to establish a specialized office, run by Steve McField and Theresa Pitcairn, to replace the current system managed by the courts.

“We are not going to decide whether the current system or the proposed legal aid clinic will be better. My office is asking if the current system works and is it fair and equitable.” He explained that if the new committee is to examine the proposal to change the system, then it needed to have a better understanding of the financial implications of how the system presently operates.

The chief justice had originally written to the premier and the governor regarding the proposals by Bush and suggested the audit. Duguay said his office agreed with the need for that and emphasised that he would be focusing on fairness and clarity. “We are looking at how those who are receiving legal aid are meeting the criteria, so we will look at how to recoup or how the decisions are made on eligibility criteria, such as how clear the policy is to interpret.”

Duguay said the other main points of his audit would be to ensure that all local lawyers who wish to take legal aid work are being given the opportunity to do so and, again, that the system is fair and equitable.

The AG will be conducting the audit against a background of controversy which has raged since Bush made the announcement that he was changing the system and moving the legal aid system from the CJ’s office and allowing McField and Pitcairn to set up an independent office.  

Following what are understood to be significant representation from the CJ, not to mention concerns from all of the legal bodies and the Human Rights Committee, the Governor’s Office intervened and told the premier that he needed to undertake a review of the system and the proposal before making the change.

Following that, a review committee chaired by Cheryl Nesblit, with Steve McField, MLA Elio Solomon, Valdis Foldats and Delene Cacho from the courts, along with Steve Moore from the Governor’s Office, was set up and told to undertake a review.

This again drew considerable controversy, since not only was there a serious conflict of interest with McField, who was set to gain from the proposals serving on the committee, there was no representation from any lawyer currently undertaking legal aid work, no one from the criminal defence bar association, and no one from the Human Rights Committee. The Law Society again wrote to the governor raising its concerns and nominating two possible candidates from the legal profession – Sara Collins and Lloyd Sampson to serve on the committee, which was roundly rejected by Bush.

In an e-mail sent to the Law Society from Bush, who said he had seen the letter, the premier told the organisation that, while he had “great respect” for the authors (James Bergstrom and Charles Jennings), he was not going to be pushed anymore on the issue. He said that any one on the committee would have as “much conflict”, if any existed, as McField.

“I think that the committee now needs to proceed with its work to come up with the best solution for a new system to administer legal aid,” Bush wrote. “Please gentlemen, we need to get on with the work.” He also told the Law Society that government had to have an elected representative on the committee as it was government which had to come up with the money to fund the legal aid system.

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  1. expat1 says:




    People, I am following the discussion here now for about 1.5 years and all I see is talk, talk, talk. If you really love your country, if you really want to do something it is time to act. Step out from behind the anonymity of computer screens and go on the streets. DO SOMETHING for gods sake before your beautiful country is destroyed. This is your home and heritage, it can’t be saved by commenting on news it can only be saved trough actions.

  2. Anonymous says:

    The Chuckster warned ya’ll about McKeeva but not enough of you listened……..I bet ya’ll reflecting on The Chuckster’s words now !!!!!!!!

  3. Anonymous says:

    The governor is there to ensure good governance and it is not for McDinejad to reject the Law Society’s recommendations. The approval or rejection of their request should have come from the Governor. WHERE IS THE GOVERNOR IN THIS ???? Yes there is always a Governor even if it is an acting Governor.

    McDinejad is rapidly becoming Cayman’s first Dictator. Are you going to sit idly by and allow him to continue Cayman ??????????

  4. what a mess says:

    Wow Mr. Bush…more dictator style actions…who’d a thunk?

    Mr Mcfield on this committee is a glaring example of conflict of interest…and Mr. Bush and Mcfields refusal to accept this "should" be criminal…it certainly "appears" corrupt!

    Remember if left to Mr. Bush and Mr. Mcfield they simply would have gone ahead without any committee or study…just because they want to do so.

    For sure there should be a representative of the current lawyers who are undetaking legal aid work and also the HRC.

    People are tired of highly paid politicians either doing nothing…or doing ‘everything’ to get what ‘they’ want…with little thought of what the people want/need and what is in the best long term interests of Cayman.

    Cayman’s leaders (especially of recent time) are seemingly much of the example that many (including our youth) are following…and that includes the not good attitudes and behaviors being displayed in a myriad of ways.

    Too much examples of selfish greed and arrogance…corruption and incompetence…at the social and economic expense of the many.

  5. Audit pointers says:

    Efficiency may be improved by selecting those with experience of criminal litigation to run legal aid rather than unemployed corporate lawyers with political connections.