Consultation ends on controversial legal aid bill
(CNS): Government must now decide whether to take note of the extensive comments it received from the Cayman’s Criminal Defence Bar Association on its latest efforts to address the vexing issue of funding the country’s mounting legal aid bill. Friday is the deadline for submissions on the proposed legislation, which will require all lawyers to work for free for 25 hours per year or pay $2,500 to help fund criminal justice for those that can’t afford an attorney. The proposals, however, were sharply criticised by the small pool of local lawyers that are currently doing legal aid work and said it would make things even worse. The CDBA said it was an unjustified attack on lawyers representing people facing criminal charges and in particular those doing legal aid work.
The association 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, pointed to a long list of problems with the draft bill. John Furniss said that lawyers from across the various legal disciplines would not be in a position to assist with criminal defence cases and that limiting legal aid lawyers’ work load would create far more problems than it solves.
“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.
Although the Cayman Islands is home to more than 500 lawyers, most of them specialize in offshore finance and commercial work. Only a very small percentage of local advocates are criminal attorneys with no more than a dozen 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.
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