Legal Aid (Amendment) Act 2012 Comes into Force on November 5
The concept of legal assistance is being introduced for the first time in Mauritius with the coming into force on 5 November of the Legal Aid (Amendment) Act 2012. The Act is amending the Legal Aid Act 1974.
The Attorney-General, Mr Yatin Varma, made this announcement today at a press conference in Port Louis. He recalled that the piece of legislation is yet another landmark in the judicial and legal history of Mauritius, adding that Government is increasing access to justice to the common man, the less fortunate, the needy and the deserving.
Mr Varma pointed out that the Mackay Report underlined the need for reforms in the prevailing legal aid system. The Legal Aid (Amendment) Act 2012 is in line with the Government programme 2012-2015 which outlines the review of the Legal Aid Act so as to broaden the scope for legal assistance.
The Act will now provide for legal assistance during police enquiry and for bail application for offences specified in the First Schedule. This measure will ensure that the rights of an accused party and in particular persons with low or no means can have access to legal advice as from the time of arrest. Any detainee or accused party who wishes to obtain legal assistance has to make a written application to the Magistrate and declare that the value of his property is below Rs 500 000 and that his total monthly earnings are not more than Rs 10 000.
Besides simplifying the application process for legal aid, the Act also makes provision for a penalty to those who provide misleading information in order to prevent an abuse of the legal aid system. It also provides for a Means test and a Merits test wherever applicable.
Following an increase in the legal aid allocation in the 2011-2012 budget, from Rs 2.5 million in 2011 to Rs 10 million in 2012, amendments were made by way of regulations to the Legal Aid Act to provide for an immediate increase in the threshold of legal aid entitlement, pending finalisation of the legislation. The income ceiling was increased from Rs 5 000 to Rs 10 000 and the requirement of the value of property owned from Rs 75 000 to Rs 500 000.