Community Law Centre delayed yet again
The Community Law Centre project, designed to provide legal aid services to the public, has been deferred again some six years since it was meant to be established by legislation.
The project’s ongoing suspension was revealed in Parliament’s Financial and Expenditure Committee report for the supplementary budget for the Financial Year 2019-2020.
Established by statute in 2015, the Community Law Centre was meant to provide free legal services and improve public access to legal services.
But it has never been established.
The project is meant to be overseen by the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration (M.J.C.A.). Its primary target for the Centre was for members of the public who cannot afford legal representation in criminal cases. It included free legal aid for defendants facing criminal charges.
However the latest Expenditure Committee report says that the $350,000 allocated for the Centre’s establishment this year by the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration has instead been redirected. ,
“Due to the delays in preparatory works, [the M.J.C.A.] will not be able to implement this initiative,” the report reads.
Last year the Justice Minister, Faaolesa Katopau Ainu’u, submitted an amended to narrow the Centre’s focus exclusively to criminal matters.
He noted that the $200,000 tala budget for the country’s existing Legal Aid programme is insufficient to cater for the rising demand for defendants facing criminal charges and eligible for legal assistance,
That is despite the fact, the Minister noted, that a right to legal representation by any defendant charged with a criminal offence is mandated by the constitution.
The amendment was supported by the Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi.
The Prime Minister also alleged that the legal aid assistance paid for by taxpayers have also been abused by certain lawyers.
“These are the same lawyers manipulating the system by encouraging clients to sue the government knowing full well that it’s a lost cause for their clients but a sure pay check from the legal aid assistance funded by taxpayers,” Tuiilaepa said.
“That in my book is a devious crime that should be discontinued.”