2 Mar 2011

Marshalls public defender in trouble for denying Chinese citizen legal aid

4:04 pm on 2 March 2011

The chief justice of the Marshall Islands High Court has told the public defender's office a decision not to provide legal aid to a Chinese citizen charged with a criminal act violates the constitution.

Xincheng Wang is facing a charge of obstructing an immigration official, but the assistant public defender Karotu Tiba said he couldn't represent him because he'd been instructed by the chief public defender that the office no longer takes Chinese clients.

Chief Justice Carl Ingram has declared this illegal, and directed Mr Tiba to represent Mr Wang.

He cited the constitution that states a person cannot be discriminated against based on national origin or place of birth, and said the law establishing the public defender's office does not allow it to reject Chinese clients.

The Chief Justice says it's possible to limit service to clients based on a financial needs test, but not on the basis of national origin.