- Matters involving minors, which come to the attention of the Legal Aid Council, (LAC) are given priority as the Council endeavours to protect children’s rights to legal representation.
- Each child who enters the justice system as the accused, is entitled to an attorney.
- Special emphasis on the protection of the rights of a child during questioning, because they may not be as articulate as an adult.
Matters involving minors, which come to the attention of the Legal Aid Council, (LAC) are given priority as the Council endeavours to protect children’s rights to legal representation.
Executive Director of the LAC, Hugh Faulkner, who gave this assurance, pointed out that children are placed in a special category of clients that his office deals with.
Mr. Faulkner explained that each child who enters the justice system as the accused, is entitled to an attorney.
“Children and adults, alike, have access to a Duty Counsel, a lawyer that represents a client from they are in custody of the police through their first court hearing,” he stated.
“There is no reason for a child to appear before the justice system without a lawyer, because at the Council we have a record of always providing Duty Counsels for children, once a request is made,” Mr. Faulkner stressed.
The Executive Director highlighted that the mandate of the Legal Aid Council, as outlined in the Legal Aid Act, is to administer an efficient legal aid system.
“There is a duty on my office to ensure that a child is not delayed. We will go to the police stations at any time, whether public holidays or nights, so that if the officer wishes to carry out the questioning they can do it,” Mr. Faulkner explained.
He revealed that there are 150 lawyers islandwide who accept such cases, at the Resident Magistrates court level, and others at the Circuit, Gun, and Appeal Courts.
Mr. Faulkner told JIS News that a police officer, guardian, family member, personnel from agencies such as the Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA) and Children’s Registry (OCR), Stand Up Jamaica, and concerned citizens can request legal aid for minors.
He also informed that the Magistrate can request that the Council assigns a lawyer to the case.
Meanwhile, he noted that there is special emphasis on the protection of the rights of a child during questioning, because they may not be as articulate as an adult.
“These rights include not being obliged to speak, because the law protects a person from self incrimination. Additionally, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. For these reasons, a lawyer must be present to ensure that the rights of the child are protected,” Mr. Faulkner explained.
The Executive Director also told JIS News that a child deemed to be “uncontrollable”, who appears before the justice system, is entitled to legal representation.
Mr. Faulkner stated that this particular matter was highlighted at a recent meeting with the Office of the Children’s Registry (OCR) and Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA).
“The reason for this is that the court may make an order for that child to be sent to a correctional centre, which is similar to a place where a child who has been found guilty of a wrong could be sent. As a matter of principle we make that representation available and we highlight that the court can make the assignment or they call the Legal Aid Council,” Mr. Faulkner explained.
Mr. Faulkner stressed that there are other rights of children that must be observed while they are in the custody of the police, such as protection of identity.
“In the event that a child is accused of committing an offence neither their names nor faces should be published in the media. A child should not be fingerprinted, the child’s record should be preserved (no criminal record),” he stated.
He also added that a child reserves the right to have a parent or guardian present while they are being questioned, are in an identification parade, or are appearing in court.
The LAC is a statutory body of the Ministry of Justice. Its mandate is to administer an efficient and coordinated legal aid system in Jamaica. The Council administers legal aid for citizens, organises and establishes legal aid clinics, formulating the requisite standards, procedures and regulatory framework. It also establishes panels of attorneys to carry out legal aid duties in fulfilment of its mandate.
Persons may contact the Legal Aid Council located at 72 Harbour Street, in Kingston at 948-6999 or 948-7275.
The Kingston Legal Aid Clinic is located at 131 Tower Street, downtown Kingston, and can be contacted at 922-3792, 922-3761, or 922-3556.
Persons can also visit the Montego Bay office at 42B Union Street, National Housing Trust (NHT) Building to request legal aid services.