Plans have been submitted for Legal Aid reform, with a lowering of the threshold where a defendant can apply for free legal advice.
Currently the income limit is £45,000-a-year per household, but that looks set to be lowered to £35,000-a-year under new recommendations. In the UK mainland, the threshold is just £17,000.
Unusually, it is the legal profession which pays for Legal Aid in Jersey, to the tune of around £7million a year.
That looks set to change as detailed plans will be unveiled later this month to bring those costs down at an Law Society of Jersey Extraordinary General Meeting on September 26th.
Batonnier Advocate David Cadin announced an outline of those proposals at yesterday’s historic Assise D’Heritage, the official start of the new judicial year.
It means the extra cost of Legal Aid could be met in future by the States of Jersey, who would have to raise the necessary funds, possibly by an increase in taxation.
Advocate Cadin said: “Jersey remains the only jurisdiction in the world where the cost of Legal Aid is largely borne out by the legal profession and not the Government. In real terms, this is a cost estimated in the region of £7m.
“A hard cost to the profession of £7m, together with increasing complexity of cases and finite fiscal resources means that reform is required.
“Inevitably, proposals for change will not please all. They are designed to redress the imbalance that has existed , with the profession alone shouldering an ever-expanding burden and one which should have been borne by all.
“Legal Aid will be maintained through a sustainable scheme, focused on the needs of the people of Jersey. It cannot mean someone earning significantly in excess of the average wage, nor can it mean someone with assets measured in thousands of pounds, yet that is what the current scheme requires.”
As well as the lowering of the threshold for Legal Aid, the Law Society of Jersey, at its meeting on September 26th, will call for other changes.
At the moment, a defendant who has not been a resident of Jersey is entitled to Legal Aid. But under the new proposals, anyone who has not been a resident for one year will no longer be allowed to claim free legal representation.
Also, the Law Society provides legal advice to a defendant 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That cost is met by the legal service, but if the defendant requires a translator, that is met by the States of Jersey.
In future, the Law Society will ask for the States to make a significant contribution to the 24/7 legal cover for defendants.
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