Legal Aid Council expands services to the disabled

THE Legal Aid Council (LAC) has expanded its services to include the provision of legal advice to more persons in disabled communities.

This expansion, said the LAC, forms part of the Ministry of Justice’s quest to make justice more inclusive.

Executive director of the Legal Aid Council Dian Watson, at a recent visit to the Jamaica Association for the Deaf (JAD), spoke to the reason the council has expanded its offering. “[Members of] the disabled community are the most vulnerable within our society and we have decided to go to them. It is an excellent initiative because we need to ensure there is access to justice for all Jamaicans,” she stated.

She continued: “We want those in the disabled community who have challenges to be empowered legally so they know their rights and their obligations. We want to help them with their legal issues which they have not been able to pursue because of their challenges. This initiative will assist them to pursue whatever legal matter they wish to pursue.”

In commending the initiative, executive director for JAD, Kimberley Sherlock Marriot-Blake, outlined the needs and the work necessary to reach the deaf community. “Having the team here is very helpful. Generally, the issue amongst the deaf community is that they do not have access. Once they are realised to be deaf, they are placed at the bottom of the line because the assumption is that they are going to be harder to support than someone else,” she said.

“Over the years we have seen improvements in the way the justice system supports the deaf community. Interpreters have been engaged for courts, there are systematic, behavioural and attitudinal changes so we are making progress.

If more government and non-profit agencies take the approach of reaching out, more persons from the disabled community will also reach out,” she said.

The Legal Aid Council has included in its monthly schedule visits to the Jamaica Society for the Blind and The Jamaica Association for the Deaf, targeting members from these communities. The monthly visits, on the mobile justice unit, by the LAC, include visiting justice centres across the island to provide free legal advice.

Legal aid is the provision of assistance to persons otherwise unable to afford legal representation and access to the court system. It is central to providing access to justice by ensuring access to all.