Legal Aid clinic criticism unfair
THE EDITOR, Sir:
THIS IS further to an article published in The Gleaner on Saturday, August 13, 2016 titled 'Provision of legal aid in an era of paucity of resources', I would like to respond to the issues raised in the article complaining about legal aid clinics.
The Norman Manley Law School Legal Aid Clinic is a department of the Norman Manley Law School and has a dual mandate of 1) providing legal services for persons who cannot afford to retain an attorney privately, and 2) placing final-year law students in a real law office under the supervision of experienced attorneys so that they can learn on the job in what we would call a clinical environment, that is, working on real files with real clients.
We have, for a number of years, been gravely under-resourced in terms of professional and secretarial staff at the clinic - this despite the sharp increase in the number of students and also the growing number of cases in all areas of law. Our offices recently moved into a new building after decades of being in not-so-favourable conditions, but it is right to say that notwithstanding our best efforts, we have not yet caught up with the 21st-century expectations that are implied by our new surroundings.
After her complaint was published, Ms Ward agreed to meet with me and we have arrived at an amicable and mutually respectful basis to continue addressing the needs of her colleague. I stress the mutuality of our pact because it was conceded that while she may have been disappointed with the result of a single conversation, Ms Ward did play her own part in contributing to the outcome.
Furthermore, it was accepted that the account published in your newspaper amounted to a misrepresentation in two significant respects: First, the 'bundling' of experiences at different legal aid offices when we are, in fact, separate and unconnected entities, wrongly imputes responsibility for matters that are beyond our control. Second, the failure to disclose that Ms Ward and her colleague were being assisted by us over a period of several months prior to the incident complained of left readers, including myself, with a completely false impression of what had taken place.
While I would have preferred if Ms Ward had spoken with me before she resorted to a national publication, I acknowledge that this is her right and it does serve as an opportunity for us to reassess the customer service component in the provision of legal aid.
May I say, in closing, that as one who has represented persons by way of legal aid in Jamaica and elsewhere for the entirety of my legal career (which spans 36 years) that I am deeply concerned, on a personal level and as an employee of the Norman Manley Law School, about Ms Ward's comments. My commitment to the provision of high-quality legal services to all the citizens of this country is something I take very seriously, because the fundamental right to access to the courts is dependent upon it.
So thank you, Ms Ward, for giving us the chance to re-examine, explain and renew this commitment. We pledge to do our best in future.
Norman Manley Law School
Legal Aid Clinic