Although it has run into financial problems, the government-sponsored legal aid scheme is a good training ground in criminal law practice for young lawyers.
Former Selangor Bar Committee Legal Aid co-chairman K A Ramu said these young lawyers were able to represent clients during remand, bail applications, trials and appeals.
“These lawyers come in handy to represent poor and needy clients who otherwise have to pay hefty legal fees to engage counsel.
“If not for the scheme, the poor will not have access to justice when they are unrepresented in court,” Ramu told FMT.
He was responding to an FMT report last week that the government-funded scheme had hit a snag as lawyers were reluctant to represent clients.
The reason given was that the government had been slow in settling payments for services rendered since early this year.
FMT understands that between January and August, the total amount owed to lawyers in the peninsula was about RM3.4 million.
Ramu said about 60 young lawyers in Selangor represented clients for a nominal sum as the fees were structured by the National Legal Aid Foundation (YBGK).
“The fee to represent a remand prisoner is RM50 while lawyers are paid up to RM2,500 for conducting criminal trials and appeals,” Ramu said.
He said the scheme allowed junior lawyers to interact with their experienced seniors to ask for advice in preparing their cases.
“Most importantly. the lower court judges are happy to see suspects and accused persons being represented. The magistrates and Sessions Court judges feel the presence of lawyers will enable them to arrive at fair decisions,” he added.
The scheme, he said, was also proof that criminal cases like theft and robbery were disposed, but not hastily.
“I hope the Malaysian Bar and the foundation would find a solution over the payment delay or else it is the poor and needy who will be on the receiving end,” said Ramu.
Yesterday, Bar president Steven Thiru also said the foundation’s success story should not be derailed by financial impediments caused by administrative delays.
He said the Bar Council had been working with the YBGK administration to resolve the matter.
YBGK, which commenced operations in 2012, is a joint enterprise between the government and the three Bars of Malaysia – the Malaysian Bar, Sabah Law Association and the Advocates’ Association of Sarawak.
Steven said the three Bars had, to date, trained a pool of 1,804 lawyers, who were paid a nominal fee for handling YBGK files.
Between April 2012 and December 2015, YBGK lawyers handled 535,986 cases.
Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi Ali who is also YBGK chairman, had expressed concern over the non-payment as that would deny the poor and needy citizens the right to a fair trial.
V. Anbalagan@FMT Reporters Online