$66m paid to legal aid attorneys in Uchence Wilson, other high profile trialsWednesday, June 23, 2021
KINGSTON, Jamaica— The Government has paid out a total of $65.85 million to 42 legal aid and independent attorneys who took part in the Uchence Wilson and Carlington Godfrey trials.
The information is contained in the Legal Aid (Fees) (Validation and Indemnification) Act 2021 which was piloted by Justice Minister Delroy Chuck in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
Chuck explained that the Bill was brought to the House to validate the payments made to attorneys who provided legal aid services in the two high profile cases.
The justice minister explained that when 29 people who were part of the Uchence Wilson gang were arrested in early 2019 under the Anti-Gang legislation for the commission of gang related offences, they sought assistance for their defence under the Legal Aid Act.
Chuck further explained that the Legal Aid Council encountered difficulties in assigning suitable attorneys to provide legal aid services.
“It was indicated that given the complexity, the number of defendants and the large number of witnesses, the trial would require the focus of legal counsel assigned to the defendants, to the exclusion of other matters in their legal practice. Additionally, it was anticipated that the trial would take three months to complete,” Chuck pointed out.
Additionally, he said the attorneys expressed that a trial of that magnitude would require considerably more resources than the subsisting tariff of fees afforded.
“The trial could not commence as the Legal Aid Council was unable to assign attorneys-at-law willing to undertake the matter on behalf of the accused without a significant increase in the fees being offered, commensurate to the unprecedented level of work being undertaken.
“As a result, this situation threatened the defendants' right to a fair trial. When I was advised of this pressing issue, and to circumvent this impasse, consultations were had with the Council and attorneys-at-law and it was determined that the best way forward was to vary the tariff of fees,” Chuck outlined.
He said that due to the extraordinary circumstances, unprecedented nature of the trial and the need for urgent action to ensure justice for the defendants, the tariff of fees was varied and payments were made to attorneys-at-law in respect of services rendered for the Uchence Wilson trial and the Carlington Godfrey and others trial.
Chuck noted that following discussions with the Council regarding the Uchence Wilson matter, it was expected that the trial would last about three months. This meant that for the three months in question, senior counsel would be paid $1.6 million, junior counsel would be paid $1.25 million and independent counsel would be paid $1.2 million.
These figures compare with the general fixed fee which is a nominal figure of about $135,000 for the most serious crimes and is usually seen as a contribution to defence counsel for the legal aid services they provide.
However, these fees are in anticipation of a trial lasting a week with one or two defendants, Chuck pointed out.
He said the nature of the matter, the large number of defendants, and the fact that attorneys would be away from office and would have to dedicate a considerable amount of their billable hours to this trial, necessitated the payments of these fees.
“Unfortunately, the trial went on continuously for six months at which point, a decision was made to put a cap on the payments made to attorneys. In all, the Uchence Wilson trial continued intermittently for 19 months and in total, the average fee paid to the attorneys-at-law for the duration of this trial, was under $2 million,” Chuck explained.
He said the total payment disbursed to the 28 attorneys in the Uchence Wilson trial amounted to $55.35 million for 19 months.
The trial for Carlington Godfrey and others lasted for six months from January 2020 to July 2020. Total payment made to the 14 attorneys involved in the case was $10.5 million.
“This Bill now seeks to validate the payment of the fees under the varied tariff and to indemnify persons liable to be proceeded against in respect of those payments,” Chuck told the House.
The Bill was subsequently passed.
In total, both trials lasted a combined 25 months and required the services of 42 attorneys.
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