Scrutiny Panel welcomes updated Legal Aid Guidelines
The Panel has been monitoring the development of the guidelines since 2018 and conducted a review of the supporting legislation, the Access to Justice Law (in April 2019) prior to its debate and approval by the States Assembly.
The changes to the legal aid system are:
- Public/Criminal Law legal aid will receive public funding for the first time.
- Members of the public who access criminal law legal aid will now be able to choose their lawyer from an accredited panel.
- Criminal law legal aid will be provided on a fixed fee basis, with no payment needed from legal aid clients. Financial eligibility thresholds are also moving from being based on a household, to being based on individuals.
- A 12-month residency test, and a need to be registered with Social Security, will apply for Private/Civil Law Legal Aid, but not for Public/Criminal Law legal aid.
However, the Panel has urged the Chief Minister to ensure that communication of the Guidelines to States Members and to the public is clear and effective to promote community-wide understanding of the new scheme.
Chair of the Legal Aid Review Panel, Deputy Steve Ahier, said: “Since its establishment in 2018 this Panel has conducted ongoing scrutiny of the project, and is pleased to see the establishment of the Guidelines. The introduction of an updated Legal Aid Scheme is an important enhancement of Islanders’ access to justice, but clear communication of the how it will operate and who is eligible is vital to its success.”
Under the terms of the Access to Justice (Jersey) Law, States Members now have until 20 January to lodge a proposition requesting that the States annul the proposed guidelines. If there are no requests made by States Members, the guidelines will come into effect on 1 April 2022.
There are two remaining elements of the legislation being developed to create a fairer legal aid system which the Panel will focus its attention on in 2022. These are Article 6 of the Costs in Criminal Cases (Jersey) Law 1961 and Article 11 of the Access to Justice (Jersey) Law 2019. The Costs in Criminal Cases Law which will bring in regulations to support the structure of payments made under the Legal Aid scheme. Article 11 of the Access to Justice (Jersey) Law 2019 will outline the arrangements for conditional fee agreements between a lawyer and a person seeking legal aid.
Scrutiny Press Release.