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Legal aid bid continues for assault accused

Tuesday 31 October 2023 | Written by Al Williams | Published in Court, National


Legal aid bid continues for assault accused

A man facing assault charges is struggling to get his case heard as he awaits legal aid.

Rurutoa Maoate appeared in the High Court in Avarua on Friday for a criminal call over on one charge of assaulting a female and two of assaulting with intent to injure.

Chief Justice Patrick Keane asked lawyer Michelle Tangimama if she was appearing for Maoate.

Tangimama said no.

Maoate said he had applied for legal aid. CJ Keane said he understood an application for legal aid had been received and that Tangimama might be assigned to the case, while the court registrar needed more information.

Tangimama said she had been in discussions about the matter.

CJ Keane said it was unfortunate and suggested Tangimama and Maoate talk with the court registrar.

Maoate said the registrar had told him there was not enough time, and they were looking at March 2024.

CJ Keane again said it was unfortunate.

The matter could be moved forward as there was time in November, the Chief Justice said.

The matter did deserve priority, and CJ Keane said he preferred to set it down to be heard again in November, but would make it December 15. 

Maoate asked that the matter be moved to March to give him time to prepare.

CJ Keane said Maoate could have representation, and preferred to have an update in November.

He suggested Maoate talk to Tangimama.

The matter was adjourned to December 15.

Maoate’s case was highlighted in July when lawyer Norman George made a point of agitation after the defendant appeared before Chief Justice Keane.

Maoate told the court there were no lawyers on Rarotonga who will represent him, he had no money and that he had been told by the Ministry of Justice there was no money in the budget for legal aid.

George then stood up and addressed CJ Keane.

He suggested the Ministry of Justice employ a public defender, and could not see how one or two lawyers could not be employed as public defenders.

Cook Islands News then revealed the Ministry of Justice receives $40,000 annually for legal aid.

Secretary for the Ministry of Justice, Tamatoa Jonassen, at the time, said potential applicants for legal aid obtain an application form from the Ministry and submit the application with supporting documents, which is then reviewed by the Legal Aid Committee.

The granting of legal aid was not automatic and only applied to criminal matters.

When reviewing a legal aid application, the Legal Aid Committee considered whether the applicant had sufficient means, including the applicant’s disposable income and disposable capital, and may have regard to the resources of the applicant’s spouse or parents, he said.

When legal aid is granted, the Legal Aid Committee appointed a lawyer from among the list of active legal aid practitioners.