September 25, 2020

The Editor Speaks: Legal aid proposals

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The Cayman Islands government is pushing to require all private attorneys to provide at least 25 hours of pro bono services a year or pay an annual fee if they want to opt out.

The proposed bill comes as the island faces cuts to its legal aid budget and a steady increase in crime coupled with a rise in attorney fees.

Government officials asked islanders last week for their opinion and are accepting public comments through July.

Attorneys who decide to take on pro bono cases and do not follow through would face disciplinary measures.

Those who opt out would be required to pay nearly US$3,000 a year. Wow!

This would appear to be like an average wage earner losing a $1 bill. Most law firms, especially the large ones in the Cayman Islands, would send you a bill for $3,000 for visiting them for an hour’s consultation!

It is the smaller, 1, 2, 3 manned legal firms who defend the poorer off members of our society who get into trouble. These are the firms who will have to do most of the pro bono work. These are the ones who get hit the hardest, do most of the work, and make the least money.

As an added incentive for attorneys who take on the pro bono work and don’t follow through, face “disciplinary measures”!

How many of the huge pool of lawyers we have here actually have expertise in criminal law? How many law firms here actually employ full time criminal lawyers?

There are approximately only TWELVE lawyers who regularly execute legal aid work and are in almost all cases criminal lawyers who get paid from the legal aid pool, $135 per hour. Now you see why it is such a small number. And, as we all know from the increase in crime here over the last few years (forget the quarterly statistics), there is an ever mounting of criminal cases.

In the proposal the legal aid funding will be managed by a director and support staff appointed through the Deputy Governor’s office. The director will establish a list and manage a roster of available attorneys for defense and introduce a duty counsel system for those remanded in custody at the police station and charged with a crime. There will be a cap on the legal aid earnings of any individual attorney at $80,000 per year, except in certain circumstances. The director will be responsible for preparing the annual legal aid budget.

I cannot see why any attorney here, based purely on the proposed legislation, would opt for the pro bono package. The opt out option is far more attractive. This is obviously how government has worked it. The $3,000 collect fee from ALL lawyers will help considerably swell the budget for legal aid. And will it all be used for legal aid?

The draft bill can be viewed on www.gov.ky in the Features section or on http://www.gov.ky/pls/portal/url/page/cighome/find/organisations/azagencies/plg/documents .

Comments are to be forwarded to Director of the Law Reform Commission, Ms Cheryl Neblett at: [email protected].

All submissions should be received not later than 5 pm on 13 July 2012.

 

 

 

 

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