The Legal Aid Council is committed to ensuring that all Jamaican citizens have access to quality legal representation regardless of their financial resources.
Executive Director of the Council, Hugh Faulkner, in making the declaration on the Jamaica Information Service’s (JIS) ‘Issues and Answers’ television programme recently, said the perception that the legal service offered by the State is inferior needs to change.
“The new paradigm is quality service, because that is the only way we can be satisfied that we are fulfilling the legal and moral obligations. If this is not done, the persons who are blessed with financial resources will have an advantage,” he pointed out.
Mr. Faulkner said citizens charged with murder who are expected to stand trial are assigned senior counsel with 10 or more years of experience. They are also, in relevant cases, assigned forensic and expert assistance to support their case.
“To give the ordinary citizen a lawyer may not be enough to secure justice for him,” he said, adding that it is important that persons have access to the supporting entities to facilitate proof of innocence.
Mr. Faulkner told JIS News that the Council is seeking to enhance the support for mentally ill citizens who are placed in police custody.
The Legal Aid Council is the agency mandated to provide legal services to members of the public who have been charged for various offences.
The representation is undertaken by an assigned duty counsel drawn from an approved list.
Recently, a new list consisting of more than 500 attorneys was approved by the Council for distribution to police stations islandwide.
“From the moment you are taken into custody, our duty counsel lawyers must respond to you, as we have to treat it as a rapid-response matter against a citizen losing his or her liberty,” Mr. Faulkner said.
During the last financial year, duty counsel represented 3,030 persons, who were taken into custody, up to their first court date.
The Legal Aid Council was further involved in 2,300 cases in the Gun Court, Circuit Courts and the Court of Appeal. For the first quarter of this year, 2,089 persons accessed the services of the Council.
Mr. Faulkner noted that the Council is a critical agency in promoting human rights and fulfilling the obligations of the justice system for due process.
“We think we are morally and legally bound so to do, because no community, no country can be sustained in terms of peace and social harmony where justice is only for those who can afford it,” he said.
Photo: JIS Photographer