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Public Defender braces for case load double

Published:Friday | February 27, 2015 | 2:00 AM

The Office of the Public Defender is bracing for the number of complaints from citizens to be doubled in 2015.

The office had received 448 cases from January 1, 2014 to December 12, 2014, which was an increase of 136 over the previous year.

"It is projected that a minimum of 1,000 complaints will be received in 2015," a notation in the 2015/2016 Estimates of Expenditure reads.

Arlene Harrison Henry, the public defender, said the office has been getting greater visibility, thus the projections for more persons walking through the doors.

"The persons who framed the Budget might have felt that, because the office is becoming more visible, then provisions had to be made for persons who want to come out. We have a variety of complaints, it is not only allegations of abuse against the security forces. We have a number of thorny issues where people have difficulty, for instance, getting their NHT refund ... it is a host of different areas. I don't think that the framers intended to say that they expected the state agents to misbehave themselves some more, but by virtue of the viability, more people would knock on our door".

 

PRIMARY ROLE

 

The primary role of the public defender is that of investigating the allegations that are lodged by persons aggrieved by the state or statutory body.

This year, the office is earmarked to receive $80.8 million to carry out its functions. The amount is just over $6 million less than was approved in the current fiscal year which ends in March, but way above the $73 million it got two years ago.

The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), which was set up to investigate allegations of abuse by members of the security forces, is, however, to get an increase in its allocation from the budget. INDECOM is to receive $342.6 million next fiscal year, up from $338.4m in the 2014/2015 year and $312m two years ago. The allocation is to cover the administrative expenses of the commission.

 

CAPACITY BUILDING

 

In addition, INDECOM is to receive $43 million for capital spending under the Justice, Security, Accountability and Transparency Project. This year, the Commission is to receive $8.9 million for capacity building and provision of equipment, another $7 million for the implementation of its public relations strategy, and $24 million to support staffing in the legal department.

Meanwhile, the Office of the Public Defender said 20 per cent of the cases which were reported to it last calendar year were closed and 80 per cent are pending. The office also said that it dealt with some 796 legacy files which existed prior to 2012. Just over 93 per cent of the legacy files were closed. Additionally, 65 files brought forward from 2013 were closed.

The total files closed as at December 12, 2014 is 893, an increase of 603 files over the previous year.