The limited availability of Legal Aid in Bermuda: the Bermuda Court confirms the deductibility of Financial Assistance payments

In his 22 November 2016 judgment in the case of Okeisha Clarke v The Minister of Legal Affairs [2016] SC Bda 99 Civ, Mr. Justice Hellman of Bermuda’s Supreme Court has clarified the meaning of the term “disposable income“, for the purposes of Bermuda’s Legal Aid Act 1980, which is defined as the “aggregate gross income of the household” of the applicant, less certain permissible deductions.

The Legal Aid means threshold is currently set at Bda $18,000 a year in disposable income, from which an applicant has to meet the cost of groceries, utility bills, and other living expenses, as well as legal fees and expenses if the applicant’s income is in excess of that sum.

This compares with the annual disposable income limit in the UK of GBP 8796, although a direct comparison is hard to make, given the differences in costs of living and welfare benefits, and exchange rate fluctuations.

The applicant in this case was described as an unemployed student and a single mother of three young children, dependent on Financial Assistance from the Government.

The Judge held (although on the basis of agreement between the parties) that the meaning of “disposable income” excludes payments which the Department of Financial Assistance insists on making directly to third parties such as utility providers, i.e. welfare payments which are hypothecated in such a way as to be unavailable for general living expenses.

On this analysis, the applicant was eligible for Legal Aid, for the defence of criminal proceedings in the Magistrate’s Court.

For more information on Bermuda Legal Aid, see: https://www.gov.bm/online-services/apply-legal-aid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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