Attorney General and Minister for Justice Kim Wilson. <em>*Photo by Kageaki Smith</em><br />
Attorney General and Minister for Justice Kim Wilson. *Photo by Kageaki Smith

FRIDAY, MARCH 2: Prisoners will have to chip in for their healthcare while behind bars, Attorney General and Minister for Justice Kim Wilson said yesterday.

Inmates currently get most of their healthcare free of charge – but Government is to fork out more than $170,000 in the coming financial year to introduce a co-pay system for convicts and create a new electronic medical records database. Commissioner of Prisons Lt Col. Edward Lamb confirmed that “for the most part” jail inmates got free health care. He added: “We are indeed looking at introducing a system whereby inmates will be responsible for covering some of the costs for their medical treatment, the specifics of which are yet to be determined.  This is all a work in progress and in due time more details will be available.”

Ms Wilson also signalled tighter control of the Legal Aid system, which has a budget of $2.6 million in the upcoming financial year, and the Criminal Injuries Compensation scheme. Ms Wilson said Legal Aid “will undergo legislative and administrative reform to achieve fiscal sustainability.”

Criminal lawyer Charles Richardson said: “Everybody knew there were going to be cutbacks. Legal Aid is extremely important because the majority of criminal defendants, for one reason or another, can’t afford to pay. The fundamental principle is that everybody is entitled to a defence – but not everybody can afford it.”

Mr Richardson added that one reform to the scheme he would like to see is an end to the “all or nothing” system of help with legal fees. He said: “Most people can pay some of the fees, but not all of them. I would like to see Legal Aid changed so it can make up the shortfall. At present there is a means test – if you satisfy that, you get your fees paid. The trouble is, some people don’t qualify for Legal Aid, but don’t have all the money they need for an adequate defence.”