MPs approve move to reduce cost of legal aid
Lawmakers have approved changes to legal aid legislation that should result in savings for the Government.
Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, told MPs yesterday that the amendments would increase the focus on in-house counsel to reduce costs.
She said the Legal Aid Department had been difficult to budget because it was hard to predict how many cases it would need to handle in a given year.
Ms Wilson said the Legal Aid Amendment Act 2018 would allow three new full-time staff members to be hired, including a senior counsel, a junior counsel and a paralegal.
The posts would cost a total of $319,780 a year but would also reduce the department’s reliance on external lawyers.
Trevor Moniz, Shadow Minister of Legal Affairs, raised concerns about how the move could affect Bermuda’s already-small defence Bar.
He supported the legislation but said he was concerned about the long-term effect of growing the Civil Service.
OBA MP Scott Pearman hoped the amendment did not mark a move to a “public defender” system.
He said such a system — in which the Government pays for both the prosecutor and the defence lawyer — has come under fire in other areas as a “second- rate” justice system.
Mr Pearman said: “I hope that this is not a slippery slope to an office of public defender.”
Wayne Caines, Minister of National Security, said the amendment struck the right balance between the protection of rights and fiscal prudence.
Michael Scott, PLP backbencher, said more needed to be done to fix the “overly punitive” legal system which has jailed a disproportionate number of black males.
He continued: “It is a fit-for-purpose Bill and it is commendable that we’ve come to a solution that has moved beyond this question of ever-ballooning legal aid budgets as a consequence of crime spiralling out of control and gun murders that left us facing $5 million of legal-aid kinds of requirements.”
Mr Scott added: “Being tough on crime, being tough on the causes of crime would be a good policy, because if we address the causes of crime we’re going to materially address the number of accused that end up in front of a jury and a judge in our system.”
He supported the Bill, which he said was “an important, accurate, practical and just” step.
Ms Wilson added there would still be “quite a substantial amount of work being distributed to the outside Bar” due to factors such as trials with multiple defendants and issues surrounding possible conflict of interest.
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