27 February 2018
A new Legal Aid law for Jersey has been lodged today (27 February 2018) that will improve access to justice for Islanders.
The draft Access to Justice (Jersey) Law will, for the first time, establish a statutory basis for the Island’s Legal Aid Scheme and could see the opening of a new Legal Aid office and a guidelines committee being set up to advise the Chief Minister on the development of a new scheme.
The move will bring Jersey’s legal Aid system in line with other parts of the British Isles where it is established in legislation.
In May 2014, respondents to a call for evidence on improving access to justice in Jersey suggested that it should be the responsibility of the government to administer the system and provide a modern Legal Aid scheme for the Island.
The Law Society undertook a public consultation regarding a revised Legal Aid scheme during May and June 2017, which was conducted with the help of the Jersey Consumer Council and Citizen’s Advice Jersey.
Statutory basis for Legal Aid
The Access to Justice Advisory Panel, Chaired by Senator Paul Routier MBE, held a number of public hearings during 2016 and 2017 to take evidence on how the legal aid scheme could be improved.
As a result of these consultations it is now proposed to establish a statutory basis for a new Legal Aid scheme, administered through a Legal Aid office which would be under the day-to-day supervision of the Law Society, but ultimately accountable to the Judicial Greffier.
During 2017, there were a total of 950 legal aid certificates issued, of which 537 related to criminal matters, 293 to family law matters and 120 to other civil matters such as personal injury and housing issues.
Commenting on the draft law the Assistant Chief Minister, Senator Paul Routier, said: “Introducing a new and modern Legal Aid system will address concerns expressed to the Access to Justice Advisory Panel regarding the current rota system when people are facing criminal charges. It will ensure that there is a specialist group of legal practitioners, overseen by the Judicial Greffe, available to support those with relative low incomes facing criminal charges.”
Senator Routier added: “The establishment of a Legal Aid office, overseen by the Judicial Greffe, will also improve transparency and perceived fairness in the administration of the Legal Aid system.”
Vulnerable members of the community
President of the Law Society of Jersey, Advocate John Kelleher, said: “The legal profession remains committed to the safety net of free or reduced cost legal representation, available through the Legal Aid scheme, for the most vulnerable members of our community who might otherwise be deprived of access to justice. We are pleased to be working in partnership with the States of Jersey in the delivery of a revised Legal Aid scheme that is both sustainable and fit for the future.
If this draft law is adopted and brought into force, the Chief Minister would be accountable to the States Assembly and the public for the Island’s Legal Aid Guidelines. The Judicial Greffier would be accountable for the administration of the scheme.
CEO of the Citizens Advice Jersey, Malcolm Ferey, said: “This has been a broad and complex piece of work and I am encouraged that after reviewing evidence from a number of public consultations, as a panel, we have been able to find common ground, debate the issues in a conciliatory manner and arrive at a place where we can recommend a Legal Aid scheme that will remain fit-for-purpose.
“Having a Legal Aid scheme that sits squarely within a legislative framework is a positive step towards securing access to justice for Islanders, both now and in the future. On that basis, I trust that the States Assembly will see fit to adopt this draft law.”