Courts to open own legal aid clinic

| 13/01/2012

179839d7441b78dbcf1a0905f574d59e (287x300).jpg(CNS): The chief justice has announced plans to open a legal aid clinic under the administration of the courts that can offer advice and pre-litigation services to those in the community who qualify for government funding of their legal disputes. Anthony Smellie said the clinic will also provide training opportunities for law students as he called on the profession to volunteer their services to support the clinic. Following the controversy surrounding the administration of Legal Aid when the premier moved the budget from the courts to his own ministry Smellie welcomed its return to the courts in the last budget.

As a result he stated that lawyers invoices far taking on the legal aid cases were now being processed on a more regular basis. Against the background of what he described as the misgivings surrounding the subject over the past few years, he said it was a “wise and appropriate decision” by government to relinquish the funding back to the courts.

He said the judicial administration was now in a position to advance the sort of legislative reform most suitable for Cayman and a draft bill had been prepared part of which included a Legal Aid Clinic which would be located at Kirk House.

“The Clinic will provide the dual benefit of advisory and pre-litigation service to persons who qualify on the means tested basis, as well as training for law students undertaking the legal practitioners’ course,” he told the profession as he gave his report at the opening of the Grand Court on Wednesday.

“The viability of the clinic will however, depend on the willingness of you, the practitioners, to give of your time to work with the lecturers in supervising the students, and overseeing and appraising their work with clients,” he added as he urged lawyers present to volunteer for service at the Clinic.  

The chief justice said based on the experience in other jurisdictions in the region the legal aid clinic has proven to be a very successful way of achieving the dual objectives of practical training for lawyers and service to the public who can’t afford but need legal advice.

With more than 454 applications made each year more than half of which are not related to criminal cases it was clear there was a need for the service.

The issue of legal aid which costs the government around $1.8million per annum despite being comparatively low continues to cause controversy among politicians who are reluctant during times of economic hardship to appropriate money to a cause lacking popular support.

In an attempt to change the way the cash was managed and reduce the funding in its first budget in October 2009 the UDP administration announced that it would be establishing an independent legal aid office that would employ lawyers to represent people in the courts as well as offer free legal advice. The premier moved the budget into his own ministry and announced that local attorneys Theresa Pitcairn and Steve McField who be in charge of establishing the new office.

However, the then governor, Stuart Jack stepped in and ordered a review of the legal process and the premier’s decision to remove the budget from the independence of the judiciary.

A commission then produce a report which has never been made public in its entirety a hard redacted copy was released to CNS via an FOI request which revealed that the courts were providing value for money and that a clinic would be far more expensive.

The auditor general also conducted a value for money report which also found that while there were administrative issues with the accounting at the court the system provided value for money and all those in need of legal aid, especially in criminal matters, were provided with professional representation.


Category: Local News

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  1. snap shot says:

    Priya Levers suggested the legal aid clinic and was ignored. Mr. Steve McField and Ms. Theresa Picturn made attempts to set up a legal aid clinic and got much flack about it from Chief Justice. Now Chief Justice is suggesting to open the clinic under the administration of the courts. Other  places has such clinics. XXXX