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JIS News

Retaining the services of a lawyer can be a significant burden for some persons, particularly in instances where cases extend for months and even years.
It was in an effort to assist such persons that a group of lawyers came together and founded the Kingston Legal Aid Clinic in 1971.
Originally created to provide legal representation for the very poor, the Legal Aid Clinic has evolved into an entity that represents Jamaicans from various backgrounds.
“We don’t only give assistance to those who are at the low echelons but also to those who I would say can afford the private attorneys, but they prefer to come to us. Because a lot of them have told us that they like how we work, we know what we are doing, and they get through their business on a timely basis,” Paulette White, Deputy Director of the Kingston Legal Aid Clinic tells JIS News.
“We are at pains to explain to them what is happening in their matter. So we assist a wide cross-section of persons who come to us now. What we try to do though is that if we recognize that someone is coming to us because they want, for want of a better word, cheapness, we will refer them to the private attorney because they would be able to pay the fee of the private attorney,” Miss White adds.
Along with its expanded clientele, the clinic has also increased its operations to include two mobile units and the Montego Bay Legal Aid Clinic. The Clinic handles a range of criminal and civil matters.
“We do a whole lot of divorces, probate work, and administration, first registration, making of wills, and civil matters. We do criminal matters as well, declarations, deed poll,” Miss White explains.
The Kingston Legal Aid Clinic is located at 131 Tower Street and the Montego Bay Legal Aid Clinic is housed at 17 Orange Street.
“We also have two mobile clinics – one in Mandeville on Wednesdays, at the Rural Agricultural Development Authority office, and one in May Pen on Thursdays, at the May Pen Court House,” Miss White says.
Although the clinic caters to a wide clientele, it uses a means test to determine how much an individual should pay, and whether individuals can in fact afford to retain the services of a private attorney.The Clinic usually attracts clients through referrals, as well as walk-ins, and clients are asked to pay a consultation fee.
“You pay the consultation fee and you’re given advice on whatever your legal problem is. You are advised accordingly and there are times when it ends there, because persons are referred elsewhere, but for the most part, clients come back to open a file.if we see that the client cannot pay the consultation fee, they are not turned away,” the Deputy Director notes.
When a client decides to use the services of the Clinic Miss White explains, “the client is advised of what it is that they need to come back with so that a file can be opened and they are asked to pay a retainer fee at that particular time that is, when they are assessed, and they are told what the fee is going to be for their particular matter.”
Although the Clinic is dependent on fees to stay in operation, this does not mean that it will renege on its original mandate to assist the poor and needy.
“We can’t turn them away because if a client has a genuine need and they need legal assistance and for instance they can’t pay all the fees that you ask them to pay, you find out what they can pay and you collect that,” Miss White says.
On call at the Clinic are three working full time Attorneys-at-Law, and one part time. The Kingston Legal Aid Clinic opens from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, while on Tuesdays, office hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. On Fridays, the clinic closes at 4:00 p.m.
Under the Legal Aid Act, any person who has reasonable grounds for taking or defending a legal action is not prevented from doing so due to lack of means.
It also makes provision for aid to be granted to any person who is detained at a police station, a lock up, or similar facilities, and stipulates that a Legal Aid certificate entitled the person to whom it is granted, legal aid, as may be specified for the preparation and conduct of his or her defense.