Island has desperate need for lay advocates, says judge

St Helena has a “desperate need” for people willing to take the place of qualified lawyers in court hearings, the island’s visiting chief justice has warned.

Only two lay advocates remain in post after Bill Drabble and Mike Olsson stepped down.

Judge Charles Ekins praised the pair for their long service, at the opening of the St Helena Supreme Court on 31 October 2013.

He said: “The admiration that I have for the lay advocates for the dedicated and selfless way in which they devote themselves to their work is, I hope, well known.

“Mr Drabble and Mr Olsson deserve the gratitude of the community of St Helena for the many years they have served this community.

“I have no hesitation in extending to them my sincerest and most heartfelt thanks for the work that they have done for those who live on St Helena.

“We now have but two lay advocates, Mr Eric Benjamin and Mrs Ivy Ellick.

“I personally know the extent to which frequently they can be overwhelmed by the work they undertake and by the demands that are made upon them by members of the community.

“I know that they will never turn down requests for assistance.

“If this remarkable and I believe unique system, this institution of which St Helena ought justly to be proud, is to survive then we are in desperate need of new lay advocates.”

He appealed directly to people with the necessary qualities, to carry on the work that lay advocates have done “so wonderfully well”.

The system of lay advocates appearing in court developed in days when the island had only one qualified lawyer, employed by the government.

In fact, there are now a number of lawyers working in various roles on the island, but lay advocates are still needed to represent members of the public in court hearings.

Judge Ekins said the current sitting of the Supreme Court would be the busiest he had known, and “perhaps even the busiest and hardest session in the history of this supreme court”.

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