JIS News

The Legal Aid Council is reporting a total of 1,501 completed cases brought before the courts in 2007, compared with 1,487 cases in 2006, as the Ministry of Justice attempts to carry out its mission of making justice more accessible for all.
Executive Director of the Legal Aid Council, Glen Cruickshank made the disclosure in an interview with JIS News on May 20.
Of the 1,501 completed cases brought before the courts last year, 457 went to the Resident Magistrate (RM) Court, up from 383 in 2006; 438 went to Duty Counsel, representing an increase from 374; 355 was heard in the Gun Court, down from 419; 228 went to the Circuit Court, down from 273; and 23 were heard in the Appeal Court, representing a decrease from 38 in 2006.
According to Mr. Cruickshank, the increase in the number of completed cases heard in the RM Court was due to the fact that the RM Court was the first point of entry to the justice system.
“I would say that since the RM Court is the entry level to the criminal justice system, you find most of the offences like wounding, larceny, assaults and to a lesser extent malicious destruction of property are being brought before the RM Court [and as a result] you have had an increase in those offences [going to that court,]” he explained.
The statistics provided by the Legal Aid Council indicate that the Gun Court, Circuit Court and the Appeal Court all registered decreases in the number of completed cases, with the Appeal Court registering the least.
In an effort to explain the decreases seen in these courts, which usually deal with the more serious offences, the Executive Director pointed out that it had to do with the number of mediation processes now in force in the judicial system.
In terms of the completed cases which went to Duty Counsel, he informed that the persons who benefited from legal aid were those who had been charged with a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment and whose financial resources did not allow them to employ a private lawyer.
“As you know, legal fees do not come cheap and before a person can be granted legal aid, he or she is interviewed by an officer at the Courts office or the legal aid clinic and he or she is assessed as to the amount of contribution that [they] can make to the legal aid fund,” Mr. Cruickshank said.
He also explained further, that although legal aid was a contributory scheme, persons who were unable to contribute would still benefit from the service.
“It is a contributory scheme and persons are required to contribute according to their means. The underlying principle is that no one should be refused legal aid, so even if he/she cannot contribute, they would still be assigned an attorney who will represent them in court,” he added.
The Legal Aid Council is the body that has been set up under the Legal Aid Act to oversee the provision of legal aid islandwide.
Mr. Cruickshank called on persons requesting the service to visit any of the two clinics that the Legal Aid Council supervises in Kingston and Montego Bay, or a Court in their area.