Advertisement
JIS News

‘You have the right to an attorney’ is a line that anyone who watches TV crime dramas, such as “Law and Order” would be familiar with. But, Executive Director of the Legal Aid Council, Hugh Faulkner, wants Jamaicans to recognize it as more than just a line.
He says that the Council provides two forms of Legal Aid, duty counsel and legal aid assignment. Duty Counsel is an attorney provided for every Jamaican citizen, who is taken into custody by the police and does not have his or her own private attorney, until his first court date.
According to Mr. Faulkner, when an individual is taken into custody, the police officer has the responsibility to offer duty counsel.
“If Mr. X is taken into custody, the police ought to inquire of him, ‘do you have an attorney?’ If he says, no, the officer at the station should inform the detainee that he is entitled to duty counsel and that this will be at no cost to him,@ he explained.
“At the station, we have a list of attorneys who have offered their service as duty counsel, and the officer should invite the detainee to choose any of the counsel on that list”, he told JIS News in an interview .
Following that, he says, the duty counsel arrives and, among other things, explains to the detainee what he or she should do.
“He or she [the attorney] would interview the detainee, enquire when he or she was taken into custody, on suspicion of what offense and other general enquiries. Now, the duty counsel should commence acting. He or she will instruct the detainee his rights with regards to questioning. He is not obliged to say anything, that the duty to prove a case is with the Crown and that he is protected from self incrimination”, he points out.
Continuing, Mr. Faulkner stated that, “if the detainee is charged for an offence, the duty counsel will explain to him that he will be taken into court, and inform him that, even though his duties as duty counsel ends at the first court date, the charge then is entitled to a legal aid assignment”.
Legal Aid assignment is the other aspect of the Council’s work, where the accused does a means test and an attorney is provided in preparation for trial.
“The law requires that the accused will be interviewed in the form of a means test, so you enquire of his means. For the legal aid assignment, the attorney will take his instructions from the accused. He will get all the allegations from the Crown and the clerk of court and would prepare the case for trial”, he points out.
Mr. Faulkner said that the legal aid assistance will eventually be expanded to cover civil matters.
“Currently the legal aid assistance is directed at criminal matters and, as you would appreciate, criminal matters threaten your liberty, will leave you with a police record, etcetera, but eventually the scheme will be expanded to include civil matters. At this stage we cannot [put a timeline], but I know there is every intention to expand legal aid to civil matters. And let me state that, while duty counsel can act on behalf of a citizen who is detained on suspicion or charge of any offense, legal aid assignments covers all criminal offences”, he stated.
However there are exceptions, as the legal aid assignment does not cover offences under the Money Laundering Act, the Dangerous Drugs Act and petty session offenses such as using abusive language.
According to Mr. Faulkner, the means test that is carried out for legal aid assignments, indicate whether or not a person can pay his or her fees.
“In essence the criminal legal aid assistance protects every citizen who is without means, and when you are interviewed via the means test, at the conclusion of the interview if it is assessed that you are not able to pay anything, you will be given legal assistance without any cost to you. If it is assessed that you can pay a portion of the costs, then that assessment will be passed and the payments can be made through any of the Legal Aid Clinics”, he said.
There are currently three Legal Aid Clinics: the Norman Manley Law School Legal Aid Clinic, which is primarily a training institution but also represents citizens; and the Kingston Legal Aid Clinic, at131 Tower Street, downtown Kingston and the Montego Bay Legal Aid Clinic, which provide representation, advocacy and consultation.
He also explained that, even though there are only three clinics, there is an islandwide reach.
“The Kingston LAC has an outreach programme, so even though the office is physically located at Tower Street, on Thursdays the Kingston Clinic keeps its out centre office in May Pen and on Wednesdays in Mandeville at the courthouses in those towns”, he notes.
Mr. Faulkner says that the Legal Aid Council will improve its services and expand the number of legal aid clinics.
“We will be seeking to improve and increase our presence in Jamaican society, to ensure that our delivery of service is of the highest quality and we will be seeking to expand the presence of the legal aid clinics in the near future throughout Jamaica”, he states.