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Legal Aid Becoming a Reality in Saint Lucia

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Contact: Chris Satney

Friday, August 3, 2007 – Legal Aid is expected to soon be introduced in Saint Lucia, following the passage of a bill in Parliament Tuesday, which facilitates its establishment.

The bill fulfils a requirement that many in society have long advocated for, that is to provide legal representation in areas where persons accused do not have the economic capacity to fund their own representation.

In presenting the bill Acting Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Honourable Stephenson King said the Act fulfils one of the fundamental requirements of the constitution, which states that all should have equality before the law.

He said, “There are many individuals in society who are unable to afford and retain a lawyer in instances where they find themselves before the law and therefore this arrangement here, with the introduction of the legal aid act will grant them that opportunity, through the authority, to accept free legal advice.”

The bill facilitates the establishment of an authority, to be headed by an executive director. A Board to be appointed by the Minister of Legal Affairs will govern the administration of the legislation and create a list of attorneys who are willing to provide the service.

While giving his support to the new bill, Minister for Housing Honourable Richard Frederick, who is himself a lawyer, disagreed with sections of the Act which stipulate that lawyers, to make that list, should have at least four years of experience and also be a member of the St. Lucia Bar Association.

“My humble view is that it should be reduced to at least one year. One year because no four-year practising barrister will come to give legal aid and the whole objective of the Act will be defeated. It would be nonsensical, because the operative term is who are willing and no-one with four years of experience will be willing. So therefore if we are saying that that persons must be a member of the Bar Association it makes a mockery of the constitutional provision of freedom of association,” said the Castries Central MP.

The relevant sections were eventually deleted at committee stage of Tuesday's sitting and amended to read: “An attorney-at-law, who is desirous of providing legal aid and holds a valid practising certificate may, with his or her consent, to be registered by the board on the list of attorneys to provide the service.”

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