The 2015 High Court October Assizes was opened in St George’s, Grenada, with a clarion for more legal aid services. The Director of Public Prosecution, Mr Christopher Nelson, QC, highlighted the need for legal aid representation within the criminal justice system. He noted that the lack of legal aid services for defendants has a significant impact on the administration of justice.
The Prosecution Department correctly noted that the Judge’s role is to be impartial and she cannot represent the defendant, but rather must ensure that the defendants rights are respected and protected.
Local human rights advocacy organization, the Grenada Human Rights Organisation Inc (GHRO Inc) and its international partner Global Aid for Legal Aid (GALA), have also expressed concerns about the high levels of unrepresented defendants on remand at the Richmond Hill Prisons. While here in Grenada for a Prison Assessment visit, GALA was part of a joint delegation with GHRO which held discussions with the Legal Aid and Counseling Clinic (LAACC) and the Prosecution Department on the availability of legal aid services in Grenada.
Mr Howard Pinnock of the Prosecutions Department, who also spoke at the opening, said defendants who are not represented by an Attorney are actually at an unfair advantage. Also, Mr Pinnock believes that the availability of legal aid services for criminal matters can reduce the huge back log of cases.
President of the Grenada Human Rights Organisation, Mr Milton Coy, noted that although the Legal Aid and Counseling Clinic operates in St Georges, the organization only provides for legal assistance in civil matters (family law and counseling, etc.), and not in criminal matters. Coy noted that in the interests of justice, all defendants who risk incarceration should have legal representation at trials. Coy also highlighted that according to 2013 statistics, Richmond Hill has a population of more than 400 persons, approximately 52% of whom are on remand. This means that a large portion of the prison population may not be guilty of any crime.
Executive Director of GALA, Mrs Jami Solli, is also calling for the availability of legal aid services. GALA has provided legal aid services in several countries around the world and seeks to provide legal aid in St George’s through a pilot project with its local partner GHRO, in 2016. GALA and GHRO will also explore alternatives to incarceration, particularly for youth offenders who are currently housed with the adult prison population in violation of their human rights per the United Nations Minimum Standard Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
There is an urgent need for legal aid services in the interest of fairness and justice for all citizens of Grenada. GALA and GHRO Inc have also expressed their interests in working together with the prisons, the prosecution, the local defense bar and the judicial system as a whole. Prison should be a last resort that the judicial system uses sparingly for purposes of rehabilitation; it should not be a warehouse for human beings urged Coy.
Grenada Human Rights Organisation Inc (GHRO Inc)
and Global Alliance for Legal Aid (GALA)