As part of the Chief Minister’s Access to Justice Review, and in consultation with the Jersey Consumer Council, Citizens Advice Jersey and other key stakeholders, the Law Society of Jersey has undertaken a comprehensive review of the Legal Aid scheme.
The aim of the review was to develop a sustainable Legal Aid model that is fit for the future and preserves access to justice for those in need who cannot afford the full costs of legal representation.
When the concept of Legal Aid started in Jersey nearly 250 years ago, its original intention and, indeed, a key part of the lawyer’s oath of 1771, was that lawyers would provide legal assistance to “widows, the poor, orphans, and undefended persons”.
The provision of a ‘safety net’ of legal representation, by the local legal profession, to those who might otherwise be deprived of access to justice has remained largely unchanged over the passage of time, notwithstanding significant changes in the society in which we live and a substantial growth in the nature and scope of legal issues for which free or reduced cost legal representation is available.
Jersey remains the only jurisdiction in the world where the cost of Legal Aid, estimated at between £7-9 million, is largely borne by the legal profession, and not the States of Jersey, notwithstanding the human rights obligations of the Government, particularly in relation to the provision of legal assistance in criminal matters.
Why is Legal Aid important?
The availability of Legal Aid is, in our collective view, critical to the smooth operation of Jersey’s justice system, ensuring that those who truly cannot afford the cost of legal advice and representation are not deprived of access to justice.
That does not mean that Legal Aid should be available for all matters in respect of which legal assistance is needed or that everyone should be entitled to free or reduced cost legal representation irrespective of their means.
Nor does it mean that the cost of Legal Aid should be borne only by the legal profession. While the legal profession is committed to the ‘access to justice’ principle that underpins legal aid, it feels that the burden of responsibility and costs associated with Legal Aid should more fairly be shared with the States of Jersey, in line with their human rights responsibilities, rather than continuing to be managed and funded by the legal profession.
Indeed, in other countries, such as the UK, the costs of Legal Aid are wholly met by the Government, although legal advice and representation is only available for a very small number of legal issues and is subject to strict financial eligibility criteria.
Review of Legal Aid
The Law Society’s review of Legal Aid concluded that, in order to maintain the safety net of legal representation, in key areas of personal law, for the most vulnerable members of the community who might otherwise be deprived of access to justice, it is necessary to make a number of changes to the Legal Aid scheme:
- Reduce the scope of legal issues which are eligible for legal aid, so as to focus on the areas where help is most needed;
- Amend the financial eligibility criteria, so that focus is placed on meeting the legal needs of those who can least afford to pay the full costs of legal representation;
- The provision of public funding where legal assistance is required in ‘public’ law matters, such as in criminal matters before the courts and in relation to the welfare of children, in line with the government’s human rights obligations, as well as where it is in the public interest.
- Centralising the administration of Legal Aid, so as to deliver greater transparency and clarity on eligibility for assistance, as well as more effective signposting of alternative means of resolving issues facing islanders.
The proposals involve the development of a partnership between the legal profession and the States of Jersey, in line with each party’s respective obligations, to share the burden of responsibility for the administration and funding of the Legal Aid scheme, the benefits of which will include better choice of representation, improved access to specialists and a more efficient and effective justice system.
It is anticipated that, subject to approval, a revised Legal Aid Scheme will be implemented with effect from 1 January 2018.
What do the people of Jersey think about Legal Aid and the proposals for change?
We consider that the Law Society’s proposals for change to Legal Aid, working in partnership with the States of Jersey, represent the best opportunity to create a sustainable, long term Legal Aid scheme that is fit for the future and which, fundamentally, protects and improves access to justice for the people of Jersey.
However, given the importance of Legal Aid, we wish to seek the views of the people of Jersey to the proposals.
Full details of the proposals for changes to Legal Aid are attached or can be found here.
Islanders are invited to provide their feedback on the proposed changes through the attached survey which can also be found here.
Alternatively, the full proposals and survey response form can be found online at www.jerseylawsociety.je/legal-aid-jersey.
The consultation (and survey) will close on Tuesday 20 June 2017.