JIS News

A Bill to amend the Legal Aid Act was unanimously passed in the Senate yesterday (October 6).
The Bill seeks to amend the Legal Aid Act to avail legal aid to witnesses of a person who is charged with offences, including those categorized as excepted, and who has raised the defence of an alibi. Leader of Government Business in the Senate and Minister of Justice and Attorney General , A.J. Nicholson, who piloted the Bill, said “legal aid in criminal cases has assumed greater significance” since the passage of the Legal Aid Act in 1997, which replaced the Poor Prisoners Defence Act of 1961.
The Minister explained that all criminal cases where imprisonment was part of the sentence attracted legal aid, save for excepted offences such as money laundering and drug trafficking, pointing out the rationale for this category for excepted offences was obvious.
Legal aid will, through the amendment, be made available to an accused person who is unrepresented and intends to adduce evidence of an alibi to absolve his or her physical presence at the crime scene.
The Act now states that, “a court may grant such an accused person a legal aid certificate to facilitate the interview of the alibi witness [and] may be granted to any person who is detained at a police station or in a lock-up, correctional institution or other similar place”.
“Sustaining a legal aid scheme of this magnitude, however, has been challenging, [so] we applaud the work of the Legal Aid Council. The State is always appreciative of this corps to accept assignments. Nowadays, there are persons who accept cases on legal aid and they don’t tender their bills,” Senator Nicholson said.
The Minister informed the Senate that since 2002, payments totalling $157 million have been paid to attorneys for legal aid services. In the past 15 months, some $50 million has been paid to attorneys for the same service.
He said since the start of the year, legal aid has been extended by judges to all persons who have been deemed fit to face trial, but insisted that the scheme was established to assist poor litigants.In any event, Senator Nicholson said no person should stand trial without appropriate legal representation.