The Guyana Legal Aid Clinic (GLAC) has been playing an integral role in assisting persons of limited means with legal advice and representation.
The clinic now has four offices — in Georgetown, Essequibo, West Coast Berbice and East Berbice/Corentyne.
Attorney-at-Law Khemraj Ramjattan recently said that legal aid is a very positive development. He commended Human Services Minister, Priya Manickchand, for the service outside the Georgetown area.
According to him, lawyers’ fees and costs for bringing litigation are largely beyond many persons in Guyana, and the Government has helped by stepping in and providing some form of legal aid.
However, he added, it should be expanded, especially to the interior areas, where there are serious injustices done especially to poor women, and because of not being in a position to get legal advice free, they are left with tremendous injustices.
Ramjattan also said that the Government should ensure that more money is put into legal aid, and not the very sparse sum that is today being put. Statistics show that from January to September this year, GLAC had a clientele of 1,460.
The website states that for civil matters, which include adoption, bigamy, division of property, divorce and domestic violence, the legal aid clinic had interviewed 1,361 persons, advised and represented 645, given advice to 711 persons, and found five persons ineligible for legal aid.
In terms of criminal matters, such as assault, disorderly behaviour, murder/manslaughter, rape/carnal knowledge and robbery and theft, the clinic interviewed 99 persons and advised and represented 34.
GLAC’s Essequibo office clientele for June to September last was 235, while for Region Five (Fort Wellington) for July to September it was 40. Last year, GLAC had a clientele of 1,945.
Guyana Legal Aid Clinic (formerly Georgetown Legal Aid Clinic) is a non-governmental, non-profit, non-partisan organisation formed to provide legal aid to persons who cannot afford to employ the services of a member of the private bar.
It existed in the early 1970s, and was resuscitated in March 1994. To date, it has assisted over ten thousand people, the majority of them women.
Improved access to justice, especially for the poor and vulnerable, is part of the recently implemented Justice Sector Reform Strategy.
The aim of this section of the programme is to have a justice system that is accessible to all, regardless of socio-economic status, gender or ethnicity.
The approach taken will be holistic, taking into account all aspects of the provision of justice. Activities will be directed towards developing and implementing a national legal aid scheme, including providing legal advice and assistance to defendants in criminal trials from the point of arrest; introducing a paralegal programme for remand prisoners and suspects in police custody; enhancing the provision of alternative and informal dispute resolution; and strengthening linkages between formal and informal mechanisms.
It also provides legal advice and assistance in relation to civil matters, including a review of the funding of such cases in light of international best practice (e.g. provision of legal aid; no-win no-fee arrangements); and improves “customer service” ethos of justice sector institutions, the revised strategy stated.
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