Bill ‘attacks’ criminal lawyers
(CNS): Members of the Criminal Defence Bar Association (CDBA) have described government’s proposed legal aid bill as an unjustified attack on lawyers representing people facing criminal charges in the local courts, and in particular those doing legal aid work. The association believes that the bill could make things worse when it comes to trying to tackle the mounting legal aid issue for a number of reasons. It also 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.
In the submission, as part of the draft legal aid bill's discussion period, the CDBA president, on behalf of the entire membership, points to a long list of problems with the draft bill. John Furniss states that lawyers from across the various legal disciplines will not be in a position to assist with criminal defence cases and limiting legal aid lawyers’ work load will create far more problems than it solves.
The association also points to the unfairness of paying legal aid lawyers for only 45 minutes for every hour they work in court and notes that the bill will do nothing to address the existing shortage of qualified criminal lawyers practicing on island that are willing and able to do legal aid work.
Although the association welcomes some elements of the law, which was made public last month, Furniss, who says the CDBA was not consulted about the draft bill before it was published, has pointed to dozens of problems that will make the bill unworkable. He said the cap on public defence work is designed to share work among attorneys but fails to recognize the fact that a pool of such lawyers simply does not exist.
“The Cayman Islands already suffers from a chronic shortage of attorneys willing and able to undertake publicly funded work,” he wrote in the submission paper, adding that such a cap could be the death knell for the legal aid system.
Although the Cayman Islands is home to significant number of lawyers (more than five hundred), most of them specialize in offshore finance and other specialist commercial work. Only a very small percentage of local lawyers are practicing in criminal work and no more than a dozen of those are willing to do the critical legal aid work.
In an effort to try and address the escalating costs of legal aid to the public purse, brought about by the increase in serious crime for which defendants must have access to free legal representation, the government proposed a plan to force lawyers to do pro bono work. But, Furniss warns, this creates significant dangers when they must take on work for which they are not qualified and, more importantly, insured.
He said that the proposed pro bono scheme, which attorneys can avoid if they pay a fee of $2500, amounts to a tax on lawyers and questions why they should be the only people in society responsible for funding the legal aid system when the issue is a much wider one.
All of the lawyers undertaking legal aid work already do a considerable amount of pro bono work as a matter of course but many more will simply not be a position to do so without breaking the lawyer’s code of conduct or creating human rights issues.
On behalf of the CDBA, Furniss calls on government to re-think several of the clauses in the bill in order to ensure that the system continues to work and those charged with crimes continue to have access to proper representation, which will be legally required under the Bill of Rights that will be implemented this November.
See CDBA submission below.
|CDBA 29.5.12 (1).pdf||382.17 KB|
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