(CNS): Decisions about who will receive legal aid for their court cases will now be decided by a new director. Formerly a senior associate with a local law firm and a legal aid attorney since 2004, Stacy Parke began her new job at Judicial Administration Monday. With a budget in excess of $2.6 million per year, most of which goes to defend criminal cases, Parke will be responsible for developing, administering and managing the new Legal Aid Office, which was established as a full-fledged unit under the Legal Aid Law, 2015, and means testing those seeking cash for their legal needs.
Parke beat out five local people who were shortlisted for the new position. Chief Justice Anthony Smellie welcomed her appointment and said she was an experienced practitioner, especially on the crucially important family side, and would “doubtless bring to bear a pragmatic but fair and balanced approached to the administration of legal aid, in keeping with the new regime of the 2015 law”.
He pointed to the importance of the decision making the director will face as she exercises an administrative and quasi-judicial role instead of judges of the Grand Court, as has been the case until now. Appeals against the director’s decisions may still be heard by judges but a new legal aid chief should streamline the functions and make the process more transparent, Smellie stated.
The chief justice urged legal aid practitioners “to support the director in the carrying out her important functions to ensure that our jurisdiction continues to provide a fair and effective legal aid programme”.
Judicial Administrator Suzanne Bothwell said she was pleased to have Parke join Judicial Administration as the first director of Legal Aid.
“As her former colleague at the Bar, I can say that Ms Parke has a very strong local litigation background and a solid reputation amongst her peers and the local community, which she has served for some 15 years as a legal practitioner,” Bothwell said. “Her existing familiarity with the Legal Aid system and wide scope of litigation expertise will allow her to apply the Legal Aid Law as intended.”
She said the job will require balancing genuine need for the dispensation of legal aid funds where it is in the public interest to do so, and that Parke will have to “carefully assess, monitor and safeguard expenditure of the fund”, which will include providing the Legal Aid Office with a real opportunity to implement the appropriate means testing provided in the 2015 law.
The new director will also work with local law students by starting the work on creating a Legal Aid Clinic. The aim is to provide greater access to justice for citizens as well as, through the provision of free advice through a volunteer clinic, allow law students to gain practical experience and the opportunity to shadow actual legal aid cases with local legal aid attorneys.
“We look forward to working with existing volunteer stakeholders, the Truman Bodden Law School and the local bar to achieve these goals,” Bothwell said. “The Legal Aid Office will now continue to operate out of the main court-house but in 2018 will move to its new home at Town Centre, adjacent to the court-house.”
Parke joins the courts from Brooks and Brooks and has been on the legal aid roster from 2004. She is a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Legal Befrienders Clinic and a member of Rotary Sunrise.
Excited by the new challenge, she said she was looking forward to working with law students to establish a full-fledged Legal Aid Clinic.