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Legal Aid lawyer told on Christmas Eve job applications had failed

Lawyer Paul Wilson (File photo)

A barrister said he was stunned to be told on Christmas Eve he had been rejected for jobs as a Legal Aid lawyer – after two years’ work as a consultant with the office.

Paul Wilson added that two applications he submitted to become a permanent staff member were knocked back and that Legal Aid had also decided not to renew his consultancy contract.

Mr Wilson said he was still in the dark about the reasons for the rejections after he went an application process for the permanent positions that lasted about a year.

He added: “I’m definitely a very qualified person for the position and I’ve been doing the job for the last two years, so I have no idea why this happened and nobody will say anything to me.”

Mr Wilson said he was hired by the Legal Aid Office as a temporary employee at the start of 2019, with the promise that he could become a permanent staff member.

He added he had worked on and off as a consultant since September of that year and had applied for two advertised positions, one as a Legal Aid counsel and the other as a junior Legal Aid counsel.

Mr Wilson said he was interviewed for the junior position in February and September last year and was interviewed for the Legal Aid counsel post as far back as December 2019.

But he added that it was not until December 24 last year that he was told had not got either position – just two weeks after being told his contract would not be extended.

Mr Wilson said: “I can understand not extending my contract – fine.

“However, I applied for the position and was interviewed as far back as September, so for them to tell me on Christmas Eve that I didn’t get the job was really messed up.”

The House of Assembly heard last month that the Legal Aid scheme had reduced its costs from $2.66 million in 2012/13 to $1.32 million in 2019.

Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Minister of Legal Affairs and the Attorney-General, told the House that the office now employed in-house lawyers, rather than hiring private firms, to cut costs.

Mr Wilson was one of the three in-house lawyers – all hired as consultants and not public servants.

The others were Charles Richardson and Elizabeth Christopher.

The policy of using in-house lawyers only is to be challenged in the Supreme Court by at least two defendants on criminal charges on the basis that they had a Constitutional right to a lawyer of their choice.

A spokeswoman for the legal affairs ministry said: "Positions at Legal Aid were advertised and will soon be filled, in fulfilment of the revised model of in-house counsel at the Legal Aid Office.

“Consultants were paid at the rate of the posts and all were advised prior to the contract end that their services as consultants would end on those dates.”

She added: “The Senior Legal Aid counsel will be in the office as of January 11, 2021.

“A new Legal Aid counsel will also commence on that date."

It was not possible to find the details of the consultancy contracts on the Official Gazette, where government contracts worth more than $50,000 have to be published under public access to information.

The legal affairs spokeswoman did not respond to a query on where the details could be found.

The Legal Aid Office declined to comment.

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Published January 11, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated January 10, 2021 at 6:14 pm)

Legal Aid lawyer told on Christmas Eve job applications had failed

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