Government’s legal aid scheme remains under significant financial stress, but attorneys have started to receive outstanding legal aid fees.
President of the Barbados Bar Association Liesel Weekes could not provide details of how much had been paid out so far or to how many attorneys. However, she said some payments had been made and lawyers had reactivated their legal aid work.
In March of this year Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite had taken before Parliament an urgent supplementary of one million dollars for payment of outstanding legal aid fees.
That was in an attempt to avert a possible boycott by the island’s attorneys-at-law of Government’s legal aid system, which has been providing help for thousands of Barbadians who cannot afford to pay for a lawyer on their own.
At the time Brathwaite could not say how much was owed to lawyers, but was confident that the outstanding fees would be addressed by the million dollar supplementary resolution.
However, in May it was reported that some lawyers had started to turn away legal aid beneficiaries because they were still owed substantial sums by Government.
Addressing the launch of the association’s Pro Bono Clinics community outreach programme at its Perry Gap, Roebuck Street, The City headquarters today, Weekes said lawyers had since started to receive payments under the legal aide scheme.
“That scheme is under significant strain at the moment and you may or may not have recalled that very recently and prior to June of this year the Bar had taken a position that it was not going to handle any legal aid matters until and unless some remuneration was paid for the work that had previously been done. I would just hasten to add that some payments for some of the claims by the Attorneys for the work done has been made and so attorneys have reinitiated legal aid work,” she said.
“Some funding was submitted from Parliament to the legal aid scheme and they tried to meet as many claims for remuneration as they could have out of those funds. I think as a measure of goodwill, the Bar indicated that, ‘okay, you having heeded our position and having afforded some payment at some level for the services that were provided, we will now continue to provide those services,’” Weekes added.
Pointing out that legal aid was only provided for certain cases, Weekes said she was hoping the free clinics, which will begin on November 5 at the association’s headquarters, would be the start of “the provision of pro bono legal representation for impoverished residents for matters that do not currently attract legal aid assistance”.
Currently, legal aid is provided in cases of manslaughter, infanticide, capital offences, concealment of birth and rape, as well as for offences where the person charged is a minor and in all family issues, except divorce.
Lawyers are paid fees from as low as $250 in certain appeal or paternity cases, to as high as $6,000 for a Queen’s Counsel in a capital case at the assizes.
“It has become timely to have a system which supplements the legal aid system, which would allow those persons to have access to justice, which they wouldn’t ordinarily have because they just simply can’t afford and there is no funding available for it,” she said.
The free clinics are designed to provide free legal consultations in respect of any new matters within any area of law, with an aim to assisting the public in finding solutions to their legal concerns.