Bush dismisses under funding of legal aid

| 30/08/2012

_51219456_000011683-1.jpgCNS): With an increase in cases covered by legal aid, the constant under-funding of the programme has led to the courts having to cover the shortfall from the following year’s budget, presenting the judicial administration with a mounting financial problem. The court administrator, Kevin McCormack, told Finance Committee on Friday evening that the cost of supplying legal aid was consistently around $1.8 million but the budget allocation for this year was still some $200,000 below the money required, even though the appropriation for 2012/13 was higher than the $1.2 million the courts received for legal aid in 2011/12.

“The dilemma for the judicial administration is that we have had to pay some bills that arise from last year out of the money provide for this and clearly that is an unsatisfactory state of affairs,” McCormack told the members of the committee in response to questions about the allocation. The court administrator pointed out that the serious criminal cases before the court were increasing but the budget was not. 

However, the premier, in his capacity as chair of Finance Committee, said that everyone had to face cuts. “I am sure all of us recognise that there are cuts,” McKeeva Bush told McCormack. “In fact  your salary is less this year than it was last.  I think all of us understand what happened.”

In the first six month of this year there were already 70 indictments filed in the courts which, compared to 109 in 2010 and 118 in 2011, suggests that the court may even struggle to keep the legal aid bill within the average $1.8 million, never mind the $1.6 million it has actually received.

McCormack explained the current legal aid system and the application process to the committee which, he said, were rather “sketchy” and did not give the courts the power to closely examine the claims made by people applying for legal aid and their ability to contribute to their representation. However, he said, the courts do make an effort to try and establish the accuracy of the information supplied by the applicant.

The legal aid issue continues to be a particularly controversial one because of the lack of public support for a publicly funded defence for those charged with serious crime. However, those facing the most serious criminal charges, such as murder, robbery and other violent offences, are often the least likely to be able to afford a lawyer and cannot be tried without one.

Over the last few years efforts have been made to try and cut the funding rather than increase it and the premier, whohas made clear on a number of occasions his opposition to legal aid being given to those who are facing serious criminal charges, had attempted to remove the control of legal aid funding from the chief justice and the courts and sought to place the funding in his own ministry as he examined the idea of establishing an independent legal aid clinic.

However, under pressure from the previous governor and following various reports, the budget was returned to the courts.

There are no more than a dozen local criminal attorneys that do regular legal aid work. Compared to the usual rates for lawyers in Cayman, the legal aid rate at $135 per hour is not particularly attractive. That rate, however, is paid to all criminal defence attorneys representing defendants on legal aid, including the QCs drafted in from the UK or around the region for the more serious criminal trials.

The latest effort to address the lack of funding for legal aid has also met with considerable controversy. The draft Legal Aid and Pro Bono Legal Services Bill 2012, which was circulated by the authorities in May, proposes to make it mandatory for all lawyers practicing in the CaymanIslands to undertake 25 hours per year of pro-bono services or pay an additional annual fee of $2,500.

Members of the Criminal Defence Bar Association (CDBA) described the proposal as an unjustified attack on lawyers doing legal aid work and warned that having unqualified and uninsured lawyers from across the legal profession doing pro bono work representing people charged with crimes could present significant human rights problems.

Related articles:

Bill attacks criminal lawyers (June 2012)

Lawyers to work free (May 2012)

Information boss to rule on withheld legal aid report (May 2011)

Jack stops Mac legal aid plan (December 2009)

Mac changes legal aid policy (October 2009)

Mac defends legal aid cut (October 2009)

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Category: Politics

Comments (22)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    For those of you (and there are many here) that see Legal Aid as a waste of work permit fee money think of the $40,000 spent on each prisoner in northward each year.  They don't get that much spent on them on the outside in five years.  The food and lodging must be great!  Also explains why so many of them can't wait to get back in.

  2. Anonymuse says:

    CNS, I don't think that it is fair to say that "The legal aid issue continues to be a particularly controversial one because of the lack of public support for a publicly funded defence for those charged with serious crime". This has never been tested in any statistical manner that I am aware of. Yes, some people, including some with large soap boxes, don't like legal aid as they see it. But others, one might even claim most, believe in some form of state-supported means-tested perhaps significance-tested legal representation. The very comments (and thumbs) on this article should show that your future articles on this topic should be less biased in support of the negative stereyotype.

  3. Knot S Smart says:

    I will repeat for the 100th time:

    Establish a Public Defender's Office and hire a full time attorney, an assistant, and article the many students from our law school to assist.

    This system works in most countries of the world…

     

    • SSM345 says:

      We are not a country in our Premiers  eyes, merely a bunch of devil worshipping, donkey faced, carrot eating foo-fools who live on a piece of 2×4.

      Its true, ask him yourself.

    • Anonymous says:

      Most other countries are NOT third world.  Take what you have written, insert Caymankind, what have you got? 5 well paid Caymanian attorneys, 10 of their closest family members as assistants, and some of the dumbest students all to help the rest of their families in court.

      • Anonymous says:

        To poster 13:54 I think third world is a racist word, because the people useing it here is saying that any country that do not have as much as they do is less than them.

        Why do you hate us?.

        • Anonymous says:

          I don't hate anyone.  And Cayman has More money than many developed countries.  Just third world (sorry, uneducated, incompetent, and self serving) leadership and followers.  Feel better.

    • Anonymous says:

      Or as it is alsoknown “the proposed jobs for underemployed lawyer friends of the UDP”.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I HATE THAT WIG!  It remains me of COLONIALISM when America had to fight for their freedom against the British. It remains me of the PRIDE and INDIFFERENCE that was shown to natives. The wig is a disgrace and should not be worn. There is no wisdom in wearing a white wig!

    • Anonymous says:

      It reminds some people of the protection of the Crown and others of the justice metted out by the crown.  Not hard to see why some would fear the wig.  Especially here.

    • Anonymous says:

      But Beniamin Franklin was always pictured wearing a wig like that. So I think you are just Ia bit hysterical.

    • Diogenes says:

      Looks just like the one George Washington wore 😉

  5. Anonymous says:

    That's because some of the money that ought to be going to Legal Aide is possibly getting diverted into Back Pocket Aide,  Buy Some Votes Aide, Fridge Aide, Church Aide, and any number of not-on-the books projects.  Just you wait if any of those 3 investigations stick (they won't) and you'd see Legal Aide skyrocket.

  6. Frank says:

    Please tell me your 'Honorable' Bush, how you find it fit that a (your) local church can receive $3 Million but government can not find the funding to support legal aid. XXXX Just a shot it the dark.

  7. Truth says:

    Isn't this normal for a third world country?  Especially one with a Dictator that has only a 5th grade edumacation?  He has lots of more important things and friends to spend his (oopps your) money on.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Imagine for a second that you are falsely accused of a crime. Maybe you have fallen out with your neighbour and they accuse you of assaulting them. Or maybe there is an accounting irregularity at work and one of your colleagues blame you. Or maybe you are driving your car, there is a terrible accident causing the death of a pedestrian, you weren't legally culpable but you have been charged nonetheless. In all of these cases, the might of the state is against you.

    Now, most people would have great problems defending themselves against such charges; it is difficult for the layman to defend himself in court, and privatelawyers fees are very expensive. So, in this situation, the rational thing to do is for the state to provide a means for you to defend yourself. It does this by providing legal aid. If you were charged with a crime that could see you put away for years, who would you want defending you? Some commercial lawyer whose firm is too cheap to pay the pro-bono avoidance fee or who fancies himself as a bit of a Perry Mason, or an experienced criminal lawyer – maybe even a silk from another jurisdiction. The answer is obvious. The problem is that this costs money – decent criminal lawyers aren't cheap. Why should you be denied the right to a good defence because the state doesn't want to pay the going rate?

    You might say, "well, that's all very well, but what about the people who weren't falsely accused?". That is quite simple. There is a presumption of innocence. Everyone is entitled to a fair trial. That is a fundamental concept. The moment we start arguing that some people shouldn't get legal aid because they are obviously guilty, then everyone suffers through the erosion of this fundamental right.

    • Anonymous says:

      That is way to difficult for Mac to understand, he doesn't pay any bills what so ever.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Love it or hate it underfunding legal aid is a shortsighted move, particularly if we are only looking at CI$200K.

    If this causes miscarriages of justice because defendants are not properly represented the final bill after unsafe judgments are overturned on appeal will be far, far higher.

    ECHR Article 6(3) requires that everyone shall have the right to – (c) to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing or, if he has not sufficient means to pay for legal assistance, to be given it free when the interests of justice so require;

  10. Anonymous says:

    This is one occasion where I support the government.  Criminals are destroying our society and the only ones benefiting from it are lawyers.  The system needs to drastically change.  Legal Aid should be doled out only where someone stands to be imprisoned for life.  Other than that, let the criminals spend their illgotten gains on lawyers instead of crack.  Here's how the system works:  Robbers hold you or your company up and steals your hard earned money by force, scaring the living daylights out of you in the process.  They run off and stash it.  They subsequently get identified by the police and charged.  The money and the gun are not recovered.  They inturn go to court and apply for legal aid to pay for their lawyers to defend them.  The court grants them legal aid as they claim they are not employed and innocent of the charges.  Governments money is then doled out to pay lawyers while the victims get absolutely nothing back.  Who has benefited from this whole ordeal?  THe criminals and the lawyers.  I say the whole system needs revamping.  We don't have a bucket of money to keep pouring down a vacuum and it is time someone grabbed the bull by the horns.  Human Rights isn't only for the criminal!

    • Kath says:

      Maybe you should consider the potential waste of financial resources when these criminals have to be housed and fed in Northward for months on end because they are awaiting a fair trail which is afforded to them under the law. If they are not guilty of the crime of which they are accused and can't afford to pay for their own defence, should they then be left to rot in prison courtesy of the peoples indirect tax payments?

      God forbid you or I should find ourselves in that situation. Imagine, you a prisoner, as a result of your own misguided views and those of our illustrious Premier. 

    • Anonymous says:

      20:33

      "Criminals are destroying our society"

      I can think of others to, they go by the name UDP.

      And to address your example, please explain what happens when an inncoent person is accused of a crime and they can't afford a lawyer, there is no legal aid available and they subsequently have to defend themselves and loose in court…..

  11. Anonymous says:

    Our premier wants everyone guilty until proven innocent.  No need to wast money defending them. We need to be giving the money that could be used to give these people proper legal representation to the churches to build the nation.  He seems to think if you are charged you are guilty.

    Just speculating: I wonder if the outcome of the three investigations ends in charges being filed against him if he will feel the same way.