Tue | Sep 19, 2017

More mentally ill inmates getting legal aid - Chuck

Published:Monday | May 8, 2017 | 5:00 AM

More mentally ill people in Jamaica's prisons are getting legal aid, according to data disclosed by Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, who has said the Government is doing "much better" paying the lawyers.

During the last fiscal year (2016-2017), 2,226 matters were settled through legal aid services, which is 608 more than the 1,618 dealt with in 2015-2016. And 3,030 cases were worked on by duty counsel, or lawyers on call at lock-ups, last fiscal year compared with the 2,216 in 2015-2016.

"As a government, we have an indispensable role to protect the weak, the voiceless and the vulnerable in our society," Chuck said Tuesday while making his contribution to the 2017-2018 Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives.

According to him, 120 mentally challenged clients benefited from legal aid representation.

He said 32 attorneys have been assigned to the Department of Corrections facilities and police lock-ups to provide this particular service.

No details on the nature of the cases closed were given but last November, parliamentarians were enraged at learning that 127 mentally ill inmates were languishing in the country's maximum security facilities and unfit to plead. Commissioner of Corrections Ina Hunter told the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee then that treatment was limited and there was little family support.

Meanwhile, lawyers who are providing legal aid services and have long complained about the low fees and the long wait periods for payment could find an improved environment.

The justice minister told Parliament that the Government is "doing much better" in the payments to the attorneys, adding that the State is "fairly" up to date with payments.

The Legal Aid Council uses the services of 658 lawyers.