Legal aid under resourced

| 26/03/2010

(CNS): Among the many issues surrounding the current legal aid system, the auditor general has said that the consistent under budgeting is hindering the management of the programme. Already this year the judicial administration has had to request additional funding three times. Dan Duguay said that while the department’s annual requests for funding had been consistently similar for the last five years, legislators continued to cut the amount they appropriated, forcing supplementary requests in every budget year. The AG also found that the financial records of the system were extremely limited and, as a result, it was not being managed effectively nor was management able to provide information to legislators to demonstrate that the allocation of legal aid is good value and being done fairly.

Duguay undertook the independent audit as a result of discussions with the chief justice and against a backdrop of proposed changes to the entire system. Duguay stated that although he found the system was working in accordance with the law, in that all those who were entitled to receive legal aid did so, there were few financial records and therefore little information to make an assessment about how the money was being spent and ultimately the quality of the system.

"The members of the Legislative Assembly cannot do their job of reviewing government programmes such as legal aid when the information they are provided is incomplete or misleading," he said. However, Duguay added that this was not helped by the fact that the budgets were underfunded on a persistent basis.

"The legal aid system is not being managed effectively because of the serious budgeting issues and poor financial management practices," he said.

Duguay stated that with such limited financial information, managers were not able to keep track of what was being spent or if they had exceeded the amount authorized by the Legislative Assembly.

The country’s senior auditor noted that, given the requirements of the legal aid law, the judicial department was obligated to provide legal defence and, as a result, the legal aid management team was faced with the dilemma of breaking the budget appropriations law or the legal aid law.

Duguay noted a number of areas where the system could be improved, most of which the judicial administration agreed with, but it pointed out that to improve the management and efficiency of the system the budget would have to be increased.

Currently the cost of administering the system is very low, the AG found, and pointed out that the money used went on legal representation and not administering the system, which was costing less than $140,000 per annum to cover the cost of one person, office and consumables. However, that in itself was a problem in that without any resources being spent on financial management, the department was essentially handing out legal aid certificates as legally obligated without following up on what was actually being spent.

Duguay also found that no checks are done to find out if those who are awarded legal aid could afford to contribute to the costs of their defence. While applicants are required to supply information, no follow up checks are made to see if the information is accurate.

Also, costs for legal aid cases are not broken down either in terms of individual cases or how much is spent on civil matters in comparison to criminal cases.

Duguay also criticized the cash based accounting system which was being used, as this meant there was no way to determine the true amount owed to attorneys in a given budget year. For 2009/10 just over $1 million had been allocated and spent but there were at least a further $100,000 of outstanding invoices that have not yet been paid. The AG’s office said it could be considerably more but there was no system in place to say what invoices were due to come.  

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  1. anonymous says:

     This is probably one in the A.G’s Report  "Legal Aid under Resourced"  Let’s wait and see after the Report is tabled.   Dan was the man of vision and left no wheels unturned.  Blessings go with him in his new venture.

  2. Anonymous says:

    There is a complex, ongoing interaction between law and public policy in the Cayman Islands, and with renewed emphasis on deregulation, decentralization, downsizing and reengineering, there is an increasing awareness that public policy, and the administrative law system that manages it, are subject to intensifying political and cultural pressures. The attempt to solve social issues by new laws and regulations has created results that were often unforeseen and has led to increased attacks on the administrative law process in the courts and in legislative chambers. These constant changes have made this a difficult time for public managers.

    The sources, operation and consequence of such changes on the law and public policy formation, and the analysis of public policy initiatives from political and legal aspects as to their intentions, achievable aims, and intended and unintended outcomes are therefore in need of serious study as a whole.

    Is there a where withall to deal with these issues?

  3. Anonymous says:

    Someone please answer this question:  Does Caymanians have the right to seek Legal Aid of any sort in another man’s country, and under what grounds??? – If the answer is "NO",  why are we providing this service?? except for our own, and under circumstances where it is justified – Government should be in a position to hold Assets when paying out large sums of cash for murders and criminals etc.


  4. Anonymous says:

    Oh Boy …. Just dishing out and no accountability – no wonder the budgets cannot balance, and the country is seeing hard times – someone needs to be accountable for such large amounts. Auditor General let them trace back every every case file for the years in question.  This should be helpful.


  5. Anonymous says:

    I think someone needs to explain legal aid to the public – before things like this are released.

    Legal aid it capped at an hourly rate, substantially less than what corporate lawyers etc charge. so whoever you are Caymanian, Expat, QC or the otherwise you are all paid the same rate. Surely if it was as lucrative as people think more lawyers would be doing it?! there are only about 3 lawyers now that undertake legal aid work.

    Your bill is sent to the court and taxed, anything deemed excessive or unreasonable, or charged without prior authority is not paid and appealing it is usually pointless.

    The lady in charge is very inefficient for a number of reasons and then it goes to poor Valdis Foldats who seems to be running the court single handedly!

    Legal Aid is not granted to everyone and only certain offences apply. Its actually not that easy or accessible here if you compare it to other countries. You have to remember that if cayman wants to compete in the financial world with all the big boys, it needs to also be on apar when it comes to education, medical services, entertainment and access to justice. Not only that, ask Cheif Magistrate Ramsey Hale how important defence lawyers are, without them the courts are carnage. self representing defendants take time, resources etc etc.

    The fat cats are not legal aid lawyers, they work hard, fight the cause for very little funds – they spend the same time qualifying and pay the same law school fees as other lawyers but their salaries are significantly lower.

    It does need to be considered here i feel, like Jersey, whether it should be imposed on the big corporate firms to supply even 2-3 legal aid lawyers each – spread the cost, it would be much cheaper, more efficient and effective that the public defender system. its an option which never seems to have been discussed. surely a give back to the community is how this island used to work……

    I really do feel that it is important for the publicto be fully and accuratly informed as to what the current legal aid system is, what the proposed changes are and so forth.

    We have a right to know.

    • what a mess says:

      I fully agree with you. Thanks for doing your part to give back and enlighten/educate us all.

      It would be good to hear from some more Cayman lawyer on this matter.

  6. Anonymous says:

     When I see wannabe gangsters on trial utilizing legal aid and showing off their huge diamond earrings and chains the size of those you’d find on a tow truck, I have to wander what is being done to determine whether or not these people can really pay for their own legal defense.  Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Perhaps all one must do to qualify, is apply? I don’t know.

    Also, once convicted, can the criminal then continue to utilize legal aid to appeal his/her sentence all the way to the privy council? Surely not……right??

  7. Anonymous says:

    I like the excellent work the AG does. He would make a brilliant Premier. He has all the qualifications needed along with my support!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Yet another example of shambolic non financial management by the civil service. Just give the country’s money away and don’t bother to account for where it goes or how it’s spent. Disgraceful. Someone should be fired.

  9. patricia bryan says:

    what needs to first be done is to take legal aid out on it’s own and not have it conjoined under the grand court clerk officer.

    there should be a seperate office for legal aid and seperate officer (s) to handle and manage legal aid, and have to report to the Clerk of Court (CC), Attorney General (AG) and the Chief Justice (CJ), collectively.

    more attorneys should also be incented to offer legal aided services, especially caymanian (the constitutional defination) attorneys, who i am near-sure do not elevate their fees as high as non-caymanian attorneys do butif so it is to try to salvage their fair share of the ‘arena’.

    lastly, the politicians who so regularly cry out ‘for love of country’ – put your money where your mouth is and cut back on your salaries then monies allocated for legal aid would not have to constantly be diverted!!!

    i think in many ways these will help aleviate some of the issues, costs and most importantly public complaints re the legal aide services.

    p.s. and make more provisions in legal aid for family and social cases involving domestic abuse matters (child neglect. physical/mental/emotional/psychological/verbal abuse. divorce. child custody, etc.) not just criminal matters!! send those foreigners convicted back to their country to serve their time and let us keep our money to rehabilitate our own prisoners and keep our own legla aid money where it will be best utilized.

    i’m tired of the gov’t acting like they don’t know WHAT to DO!! all the education and common sense up in deh!!

  10. Eric Idle says:

    On the bright side, as long as everyone keeps killing everyone else, based on the names of the deceased at the corresponding Court records, there should be less in need of legal aid anyway.

    • Anonymous says:

      Eric Idle:

      The gangstas’ sons by their brainless girlfriends are coming on hard behind them so relief will just be temporary.

  11. Anonymous says:

    "The legal aid system is not being managed effectively because of the serious budgeting issues and poor financial management practices," he said.

    It seems every report out of government these days highlights the complete lack of financial management / responsibility.

    Who is in charge of overseeing the financial reporting / management of the Cayman Islands government?  I was under the impression that Mr. Kenneth Jefferson plays some part in that?

    If that is so, why oh why has he not be fired for unparalleled incompetence?


  12. Anonymous says:

    McKeewa got part of this problem sorted without any advice from the AG. You see by refusing to bring in new laws to get the violent criminals off our streets, he makes sure that there is no need for legal aid for them. Pretty clever huh?

  13. Moses says:

    Does anyone have any good news? On top of murders and Government mismanagement we have hit rock bottom.

    In addition all the criminals will need legal aid so life will only get worse.