House of Representatives looks at Legal Aid Bill, 2023
The members of the House of Representatives had a very loaded legislative day on Friday. Yesterday we brought you highlights of the debate on the Caribbean Community (Free Movement of Skilled Persons) (Amendment) and the Extradition Bills. But these were just two bills that were up for a second reading. There was the Legal Aid Bill, 2023. The premise is to make legal aid readily available to persons of small or moderate economic means and for the legal costs for those categories of people to be partially or wholly defrayed. Leader of the Opposition Moses “Shyne” Barrow said that he supports the legislation, but the UDP had some concerns.
Hon. Moses “Shyne” Barrow, Leader of the Opposition: “One of the concerns is that the bill takes away the discretion of the court to appoint attorneys at law to act for those in need in criminal matters in particular and centralizes the appointment of legal aid to a counsel within the office as opposed to a counsel at large. Now why this is important ? When I first heard the bill and I got the representations from the Attorney General’s ministry again as someone who at a young age had interaction with the criminal justice system I’m very sympathetic to the need for justice. To the fact that sometimes people who find themselves in the criminal justice system are innocent but they are poor and if they don’t have proper representation they could spend a lot of time unjustly incarcerated so it is a very serious matter to ensure that those in our society who don’t have the means to afford legal representation are in no way disenfranchised and I’m afraid that some of the language in this bill takes away from what it is that I thought was being given I thought it was going to be greater access, automatic access of indigent people to justice. So again that point that I just raised in section 2 the interpretation section called “Certified Offense” is contained in part F 1 of schedule 1 “any indictable offense the trial of which is certified by the trial judge to be or is likely to be of difficulty and to require assistance of an attorney at law.” that is not giving greater access to justice so now again I thought the bill was that anybody under any circumstances that cannot afford an attorney would be given legal aid that is what I would like to see. Language such as what I just read it makes it now discretionary so depending on the difficulty you get legal aid if it’s not as difficult or we don’t find the case as grave then you represent yourself ? That’s not the way it should be. Again you like to say that I misunderstand. I am not a lawyer, my father is I am not I am an entertainer so again member from Freetown you could enlighten the member from Mesop and the other members in the opposition .”
Minister of Home Affairs & New Growth Industries and Area Rep for Caribbean Shores, Kareem Musa explained that this is a progressive step to rectify an age-old problem with the service.
Hon. Kareem Musa, Area Rep. Caribbean Shores: “I rise to lend my support to this very important, progressive and comprehensive bill as prepared by our Attorney General’s Ministry and one that is absolutely needed in today’s environment where poor people cannot access justice. I’ve been practicing law Madam Speaker for seventeen years and I’m very well versed and familiar with the current legal aid structure or rather I should say the lack of structure at the legal aid clinic. And it is no way a dig at the hard working legal officers that practice there but it’s an office that really practices mostly divorce cases. So there’s no a wide variety of services that are offered at the legal aid clinic currently and what this bill seeks to do Madam Speaker is to create a commission and to create a structure that has been absent for all these years so as to fill that void to ensure that those who are most in need of legal services can access those legal services. Now I don’t know what bill the Leader of the Opposition or I don’t even know if I should ever refer to him as that anymore he said he’s an entertainer, I thought he was the Leader of the Opposition but he says he’s just an entertainer but I don’t know what bill the member for Mesopotamia is reading because private attorneys will still be enlisted Leader of the Opposition. If you look at section 8 (e) part of the commission’s responsibility is “to liaise with professional bodies representing private legal practitioners in order to facilitate the use and recognition in appropriate circumstances of services provided by private legal practitioners.” The very same section goes on at 8 (h) that part of the responsibility of the commission is to establish a roster of attorneys at law or other persons for the purpose of providing legal aid services under this act. So exactly what you are condemning this act for it does.”