Second Constitution Day Round Table |20 June 2022
The right to legal representation
According to the Constitution of Seychelles, every person who is charged with an offence has the right to be defended before the court in person, or, at the person’s own expense by a legal practitioner of the person’s own choice, or, where the law so provides, by a legal practitioner provided at public expenses.
The right to legal representation was the topic of the second Constitution Round Table discussion held on Friday at the auditorium of the Palais de Justice building, gathering attorneys and pupils, law students, members of various local organisations involved in overseeing and upholding the law, as well as members of the media.
The event was the opportunity to question the selected panel of judges – made up of Chief Justice Rony Govinden, president of the Bar Association of Seychelles Divino Sabino, private lawyers Nisha Allear and Ryan Laporte, representative of the Attorney General’s Office Stefan Knights and pupil Priyanka Ramruchaya – and lawyers about how we ensure lawyers follow certain ethics and codes of conduct, the high cost of lawyer fees and how that affects every day persons, legal aid, and also on the increase in lawyers being prosecuted in criminal cases and what happens to their career once this happens.
It was also the opportunity to assess whether the current reputation and practices of the legal profession are up to standard to meet our rights adequately, and also see how the current quality of legal representation available in Seychelles affects persons going to court, and the outcomes of their cases.
Among the main topics of discussion was the effectiveness of our current legal aid system, including the challenges face by the parties involved, together with members of the public, lawyers and administrators.
In Seychelles, under the Legal Aid Act, legal aid is offered to litigants that cannot financially afford to pay for legal representation in civil and criminal proceedings.
To be eligible for legal aid one must earn less than R8000 per month, and should also produce several documents, while proof of financial position will be required, including the person’s income and that of his, or her spouse, details about income tax, loans and life insurance premiums, the maintenance of dependents, assets, and also the nature of the matter for which legal aid is being sought.
The main concern raised regarding legal aid was the fee, which some lawyers said is too low and do not match the amount of work done.
Chief Justice Govinden noted that based on some observations, along with comments from attorneys, they realised that there should be a revamp of the legal system, especially lawyers’ fee and also the requirements for such aid, to ensure that no abuse takes place and that only those in need benefit from the legal aid system.
Other topic on Friday’s agenda was the public awareness, precisely on ways to engage them to improve their understanding of legal representation, on how to try and remedy the challenges faced by both parties.