(Updated) Queen’s Counsel Kenneth Allen says Montserrat must do more to assist those less fortunate when they find themselves before the courts.
The senior attorney was speaking at the Opening Ceremony of the New Law Year on Tuesday, September 18 at the Court House in Brades.
Lawyer Allen said legal aid is needed for all areas. Currently only persons accused of murder are able to access legal counsel without cost. He questioned whether government had their priorities wrong. Where they put fixing the road of a loyal voter ahead of the needs of a young girl or battered wife who cannot afford assistance in their time of need.
He continued to say that judges and compassionate lawyers are playing their part as all have given free advice and counsel to those in need. He said it was time the government played their part to improve the situation for all who are in need of legal aid.
Sheree Jemmotte-Rodney, the Attorney General ag reiterated the same need during her presentation at the opening ceremony, calling on the private bar to do more.
“Firstly, the principle which states “Adequate legal Aid schemes should be provided for poor and disadvantaged litigants, including public interest advocates.” And secondly the principle which expresses that Legal Professional organizations should assist in the provision, through pro bono schemes, of access to justice for the impecunious.”
“The issue of legal aid has been discussed often over the years. It has come prominently to the fore in some recent matters which have come before the Court. The question of legal aid, goes to the root of access to justice. It is not solely the responsibility of the Government, Ministers, executive and legislature to ensure that there is access to justice; the Judiciary, and the lawyers at the Private Bar also share in this responsibility and play a critical role in this regard.
“The fact that Montserrat is in granting aid and is faced with consistently decreasing public funds, this being complication by the uncertainty as to what the impact of Brexit would have on these rapidly reducing financial resources. Montserrat continues to meet its financial obligations to the Court, but given the financial challenges outlined, even with the best will in the world, there is a limit to what the Government of Montserrat can provide by
way of legal aid. It is imperative therefore that the Private Bar, make a deliberate and concerted effort to assist. Legislation can be, and has been drafted in relation to this matter, but given Montserrat’s size and the financial challenges we face, no scheme would work without the Private Bar. The members of the Private Bar have a fundamental role to play in shaping and ensuring the viability of a legal aid structure in Montserrat. My discussions with the President of Bar Association on this issue are encouraging, but this is not a matter for the President of the Bar alone, it needs to be the approach of every member of the Private Bar, that they would assist and provide service pro bono or at a significantly reduced fee where the need arises. Unless and until, persons without the means are able to access the judicial system, we cannot claim to have an accessible fair and just judicial system,” the attorney general stated.
Lawyer Jean Kelsick, President of the Montserrat Bar Association pledged their support. “I will personally do my best to encourage my colleagues to make their services available at affordable prices.”
“We can do more and must do more,” declared Kenneth Allen QC.