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Greater Access to Legal Aid for Persons Unable To Afford It

Apr 19, 2023

Greater Access to Legal Aid for Persons Unable To Afford It

Two bills were passed through the Senate today that will provide greater access to legal aid for persons unable to afford the service. The authority to assign attorneys for legal aid purposes falls under the Senior Courts Act. An amendment is now being made to that act that will see such powers removed from the Senior Courts. A newly established Legal Aid Commission will be tasked with assigning attorneys for legal aid purposes to persons unable to pay for an attorney. The specifics of the roles and responsibilities of the commission will fall under the newly created Legal Aid Act. Both the Senior Court and the Legal Aid Bills were read together inside the Senate.  Lead Senator Eamon Courtenay and U.D.P. Senator Michael Peyrefitte weighed in on the bills.

Eamon Courtenay

Eamon Courtenay, Senator for Government Business

“The Legal Aid Bill is long overdue. The amendment to the Senior Courts Act simply removes the power of the court to assign attorneys at law to legal aid cases. The Legal Aid Bill for itself advances legal aid substantially in Belize by the creation of a commission that deals the whole question of legal aid and sets out all the functions and composition. The commission as you see is appointed by the Chief Justice in clause five and reflects different persons in the association in the legal profession as well as human development or social welfare. The duties of the commission are set out and the extensive powers of the commission appear in clause eight of the bill. Essentially, what it seeks to do is to empower the commission to administer a comprehensive legal aid scheme for those who require legal services but are unable to afford it.”

Michael Peyrefitte

Michael Peyrefitte, U.D.P. Senator

“What I hope to see accomplished is when attorneys are assigned matters and I can personally say I bore the brunt of this cause I started doing criminal defense, attorney will be assigned a matter by the chief justice as the law was back then and an attorney would say, well I don’t do criminal law. So, I have to be excused from that case. So, they would take all the free cases and put it on attorneys who only practice criminal law. I use to say; before I did my first murder case I didn’t do a murder case either. You have you take responsibility. I would hope that it will be very difficult, once the commission signs you to do a particular case that you can’t just say I don’t do that type of law. You can’t just request your name to be removed. It has to be that if you are assigned a case and you don’t want to do that case then it is up to you to pay another attorney a fee for that other attorney to take it up on your behalf that way you would have done your duty to say look I don’t do that type of case but I have some other lawyer who will take my place.”