ACCESS TO JUSTICE IS A RIGHT FOR ALL


Public funding of criminal defence costs in the form of legal aid remains a game of political football but so far few goals have been scored.

For nearly 30 years fees for lawyers who act for taxpayer funded defendants remained at levels below the minimum wage and many times less than the fees that can be charged privately.

The problem is exacerbated by Gibraltar’s fused profession which means that lawyers act as both barristers and solicitors and unlike barristers in England, usually employ several staff members and have high overheads. Running a business and charging less than the minimum wage is not an option and as such much of the legal aid work is done by junior lawyers to get experience. Whilst that is acceptable in simpler cases it is plainly not so when a case is very serious, complex or based on large volumes of paperwork. 

The system is open to miscarriages of justice.

In 2012 following a constitutional motion brought on behalf of clients by Charles Gomez, the government passed the Legal Aid (Fees & Expenses) Rules 2012 increasing the rates payable in serious and complex fraud cases to levels which, whilst still substantially lower than those chargeable privately, allowed for experienced lawyers to take on serious fraud briefs on legal aid.

The fact that the trial in question let to the acquittal of one of the accused and the partial acquittal of another justifies the increase which allowed the accused “effective representation” (one the term used to define the right to a fair trial under the European Convention of Human Rights 1952 and the Gibraltar Constitution Order 2006).

“Fundamental legal rights are at play and I am confident that soon the Government will extend the "reasonable rates" provisions to criminal offences other than fraud. The joke that justice is open to all like the Ritz hotel, is wearing thin” said Charles Gomez.


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