Pioneering Community Legal Aid Programme Announced

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Pictured L-R are Kahlil Parker Q.C., President, The Bahamas Bar Association; Tonya Bastian Galanis, Principal of EDLS; Senator the Hon. Ryan Pinder Q.C., Attorney General & Minister of Legal Affairs; Nicole Sutherland King, Director of the Legal Aid Clinic at EDLS; Bevil Wooding, Executive Director, The Caribbean Agency for Justice Solutions.

The Eugene Dupuch Law School (EDLS) has announced the launch of its Community Legal Aid Programme (CLAP) in partnership with the Office of the Attorney General, The Bahamas Bar Association and The Caribbean Agency for Justice Solutions (The Agency). 

At a recent press conference, the principal of EDLS, Tonya Bastian Galanis explained, “The chief objective of this Community Legal Aid Programme is to increase access to justice for members of the public by making legal advice and services more available. Clinical training in EDLS’ Legal Aid Clinic is a key element of the instruction that our students receive. Our Legal Aid Clinic, along with extracurricular activities, also provide additional opportunities for us to give back to the communities that we are a part of. This programme aligns well with the culture of service that we strive to cultivate, while meeting real needs in our society.”

Mrs. Bastian Galanis elaborated, “The distinguishing features of CLAP from other legal aid programmes are the way that technology will be leveraged, thus highlighting technology’s increasing importance in the legal profession and, with the roll-out of a Mobile Legal Aid Unit, the mobility of the Clinic throughout our communities and indeed throughout the islands of The Bahamas.”

The Programme will leverage a platform developed by The Caribbean Agency for Justice Solutions, including a website, AccessLegal.com. Through the site, persons seeking legal aid will be able to schedule both face-to-face and virtual consultations while persons interested in volunteering with the programme will be able to register.  

According to Bevil Wooding, Executive Director, The Caribbean Agency for Justice Solutions, “Our AccessLegal platform is the region’s only technology platform designed for and dedicated to addressing the service delivery needs of legal aid clinics and pro bono legal services providers.

The technology underpinning the AccessLegal service allows for legal aid services to be delivered to and accessed by more persons in more places than ever before. The features of the platform align perfectly with the objectives and vision for this Community Legal Access Programme. This is the tangible fruit of the strategic partnership between EDLS and The Caribbean Agency for Justice Solutions that began in 2020.”

Described as a pioneering and much needed service to the public, the community legal aid programme is being supported by The Government of The Bahamas. Senator the Hon. Ryan Pinder Q.C., Attorney General & Minister of Legal Affairs, revealed that the Government has acquired a mobile home, which will be outfitted as a workspace and provided to the Programme to facilitate the provisioning of mobile legal aid clinics to remote communities and Family Islands.

The Attorney General also endorsed the importance of giving back to society adding that as an alumnus of EDLS, he is proud to support the launch of the Community Legal Aid Programme, a significant milestone for increasing the accessibility to justice in The Bahamas.

Nicole Sutherland King, Director of the Legal Aid Clinic at EDLS, added that the launch of this programme is the realization of a dream which began many years ago. “Through the Legal Aid Clinic, we have been providing legal aid for more than 20 years and are acutely aware of the ongoing need for legal aid in the country, especially relating to civil matters. It is our responsibility to ensure that Bahamians understand their legal rights and options; that they know how to access the remedies available through the legal system and can secure the help of legal counsel to do so where necessary.”

She explained that like many service providers, since the pandemic the Clinic has adjusted the way clients are served expanding its utilization of technology. “This programme builds on this progress and for the first time, we have the collaboration of many agencies, leveraging technology to do this very important work of improving access to justice in both the real and virtual environments.”

Mrs. Sutherland King explained, “While we are beginning with a pilot of the Community Legal Aid Programme, in the near future, we will be conducting legal aid fairs in communities across the country. At these events, teams of volunteer attorneys, paralegals and law students will go into communities identified as having the greatest needs, to meet with members of the public, provide free legal consultations and advice and where needed, legal representation.

In addition to face-to-face consultations, we will also facilitate online legal consultations; this will allow us to connect attorneys with persons throughout the country. Additionally, we will provide assistance for those needing support with navigating magistrate’s court matters, filling out magistrate’s court forms or understanding how to log on for virtual hearings.”

Speaking on behalf of The Bahamas Bar Association, its President, Kahlil Parker Q.C., pledged the support of the legal fraternity, who are essential to the success of the CLAP. Parker opined that most attorneys are happy to volunteer their time and services and the programme now makes it easier for them to do so, matching their skills and expertise with real needs in the community, and allowing them to serve from the comfort of their offices and at times convenient for them. 

In addition to attorneys and legal professionals, there is also an opportunity for those with administrative and IT skills to volunteer. Service providers wishing to volunteer or obtain more information can visit accesslegal.com/Bahamas or contact the Eugene Dupuch Law School at telephone 242-326-8507. 

Principal Bastian Galanis added, “With the support of the Office of the Attorney General and members of The Bahamas Bar Association, we are excited to share that in the coming months, we will be presenting a series of Community Legal Aid Clinics, beginning in the Centreville community in late June 2022.”   

The Member of Parliament for Centreville, The Hon. Jomo Campbell, Min. of State for Legal Affairs added his congratulations to the school and its partners. The Minister said that he is proud to stand alongside the Programme and be of service to his constituents in this most important way.

More photo highlights below:

Pictured L-R are Tonya Bastian Galanis, Principal of EDLS; Nicole Sutherland King, Director of the Legal Aid Clinic at EDLS; Bevil Wooding, Executive Director, The Caribbean Agency for Justice Solutions

Pictured L-R are Kahlil Parker Q.C., President, The Bahamas Bar Association; The Hon. Jomo Campbell, Min. of State for Legal Affairs & MP for Centreville; Senator the Hon. Ryan Pinder Q.C., Attorney General & Minister of Legal Affairs; Tonya Bastian Galanis, Principal of EDLS; Nicole Sutherland King, Director of the Legal Aid Clinic at EDLS; Bevil Wooding, Executive Director, The Caribbean Agency for Justice Solutions