The 2019 annual report shows that the Guernsey Legal Aid Service cost taxpayers nearly £3m.
Advocates are allowed to access a legal aid rate of £167 per hour, which the report notes is ‘considerably less’ than the average private rates of local law firms, but high compared to other jurisdictions.
Most of the cases where legal aid was approved were classed as ‘family matters’ under the heading of ‘civil matters’.
These included residence and contact orders concerning children whose parents had separated and were unable to reach an agreement on the future arrangements of their child or children.
It also comprised funding for maintenance proceedings against a non-resident parent, and domestic violence injunctions.
Under the heading of ‘criminal matters’, the most common areas bankrolled involved charges for the importation and possession of drugs, assault, including assault on police officers, public disorder, criminal damage, theft, drink driving, and the taking and possession of indecent images.
In total there were 417 civil matters cases funded, and 196 criminal cases.
Funding was also provided for 618 detention cases, where an individual has been detained by the police or Border Agency, 813 green form cases, which gives up to two hours’ legal advice and assistance, and 146 duty advocate invoices for representation at court.
The aim of the legal aid scheme is ensure that everyone has access to justice in the island, and not just the wealthy.
Unaddressed legal needs can affect individuals, families, the economy and society, by shifting the costs elsewhere, for example on the child protection system and the prisons.
The original budget for legal aid in 2019 had been set at £2.828m., but the reality exceeded that with an overspend of £71,000 to reach an actual figure of £2.899m.
The overspend was put down to an increase in demand relating to family matters and the children’s law, and a couple of large complex criminal cases.
Five full-time members of staff are employed in the legal aid office at the White Rock, and the cost of running that office, including pay, came to £368,000.
When an application for legal aid is first submitted the financial eligibility of the applicant is assessed over a period of 13 weeks prior to the date of submission.
The applicant is required to produce evidence of all sources of income, capital, bank statements and evidence of mortgage or rent payments.
A legal aid certificate is given if the application meets the set criteria.
If someone is in receipt of income support they are automatically financially eligible for legal aid.
In the administrator’s comments section of the annual report it states that steps are being taken to design a ‘user friendly website’, which should be up and running by the end of this year.