EXECUTIVE director of the Legal Aid Council Hugh Faulkner says the two mobile justice units, which were donated to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) on Wednesday, will make a huge difference to the services they offer.
The two 2020 Golden Dragon buses, valued at CA$420,000, will be deployed by the Legal Aid Council to enhance its outreach services to residents in underserved and rural communities.
“We have found that there are many times when persons who are not located close to a Legal Aid clinic have difficulties to access justice and sometimes they'll take matters into their own hands. With the setting up of justice centres across Jamaica, we now can roster the buses to have particular days of the month when they are in a parish,“ said Faulkner.
“There are persons, even if they could find a lawyer nearby, they cannot come up with the consultation fee. This is the consultation fee ennuh, just the consultation fee just to talk with the lawyer and get the lawyer's advice and if the lawyer is unable to act, you would have to retain the lawyer you would have to retain the lawyer and there are many persons who have issues which maybe in their favour, which they cannot act on. The mobile justice unit brings the advice, the information to them,” Faulkner told the Jamaica Observer after the handing-over ceremony at the Constant Spring Road, Kingston offices of the ministry.
According to Faulkner, the Legal Aid Council is seeking to bridge that gap.
“If there are matters that are not criminal we know where to refer them to for assistance, so it will make a huge difference and, in fact, to me, it is in the interest of community harmony and peace,” he said. He added that it is better to have legal remedies rather than people resolving their differences violently.
The attorney-at-law, while noting that some people tend to face legal issues at a time when their resources are at its lowest, said they are entitled to a lawyer.
“The criminal justice system can cause you to be removed from your home and into a lock-up, so it removes you from your comfort zone. It can cause you to end up with a criminal record which impairs job opportunities, travel opportunities, and training opportunities… So there are numerous reasons why a person coming before the criminal court is entitled to legal representation, as mandated by our constitution,” he explained.
According to a statistical report, 4,124 people have received assistance since the launch in 2017 of the Mobile Justice Unit. For the fiscal year 2017-2018 the unit visited 128 communities/locations in 11 parishes. In addition, the unit was a part of five justice fairs.
During the same period, 954 of the 2,443 people engaged the unit requested legal services.
Two hundred and twenty-seven people requested legal services for criminal matters, while 458 did so for matters civil in nature. At the same time, 88 asked for legal services in relation to divorce, while 173 requested legal services for expungement. Eight requested legal services for counselling mental health matters.
During the 2018/2019 fiscal year, 100 communities were visited by the Mobile Justice Unit.
The mobile units handed over this week were donated by the Canadian Government.
Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck, while noting that he has finally fulfilled his promise, said it would not have been possible without the assistance of the Canadian Government and the United Nations Development Programme.
Noting that there was one unit serving the nook and crannies of the island, Chuck said with the additional two buses it will be easier to provide additional justice services to the people.
At the same time, he said community organisations, church and service-based organisations can now contact the Legal Aid Council and book the buses.
Canadian High Commissioner Laurie Peters said she considers Jamaica Canada's most important partner in justice in the Caribbean region, adding that her country has been working to strenghten the system.
At the same time, she said the she is confident that the units will be fully utilised, given the fact that the previous unit has been in operation since 2017.