The Ontario Criminal Lawyers Association is calling for more legal aid funding | Media Pyro


The Criminal Lawyers Association is calling on the Ontario government to expand the federal legal aid program, saying that underfunding is making more defendants ineffective and putting them at risk. young lawyers to stay in defense law.

The group, which wrote to the government last month seeking a cost-of-living funding model, said it will meet with the government next week to discuss the issue.

Association president Daniel Brown said the lack of legal aid funding has prevented many defendants from representing themselves in Ontario courts because they are not eligible for the program, and then the judicial system becomes ineffective and the courts are overburdened.

“This is just a system in trouble,” Brown said in an interview Tuesday.

Cases involving defendants with no information take three or four times longer than cases with criminal defense attorneys, Brown said.

“We have judges who have to spend time teaching the accused how to defend themselves. They have to be educated and they have to be with them in the courts,” he said. he said.

“[The accused] there are long inquiries​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ and legal requests that go nowhere because they don´t know what they are doing. It’s like someone trying to do open heart surgery. It’s a sign of disaster.”

An Ontario provincial courtroom is pictured here in Toronto’s Old City Hall. (David Donnelly/CBC)

A lower income cut for legal aid falls below the poverty line, Brown said.

“Anyone working a low-wage job does not qualify for legal aid,” he said. “Certainly, they have no hope of paying for private counsel, especially for complex cases in the Supreme Court.”

Betty Vavougios, president of the Ontario Crown Lawyers Association, said the court system is less efficient as defendants try to navigate the system.

“The entire justice system is suffering without a properly funded legal aid system,” Vavougios wrote in a Monday letter to the Criminal Lawyers Association advocating the latter position.

“It is not a good solution for the Crown and judges to be forced to bear the burden of the additional responsibility that comes with dealing with unrepresented defendants going through the justice system.”

The Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ontario cut legal aid funding by $133M in 2019

In 2019, the Ontario Attorney General cut $133-million to the legal aid fund, which was 30 percent of the program’s budget at the time.

Last year, the government said it would spend more than $72 million over two years to hire more Crown prosecutors and new court staff to address backlogs and support court services and victim and witness services.

Brown said cuts to the legal aid program and increased funding to the rest of the legal system have created “unfair justice.”

“[The government] don’t know that the lack of a lawyer for the lack of legal aid funds is the root of these setbacks,” Brown said.

Brown said legal aid rates for barristers have remained the same for years, despite rising inflation, and that is pushing young lawyers who rely heavily on legal aid cases to leave. all in defense law.

“Criminal defense lawyering right now is a dying breed. And it’s dying because the funding base for most young lawyers, whether it’s race, women, just young lawyers, legal aid, ” he said.

“And legal aid is hungry.”

In many cases it can cost a defense attorney eight or 10 hours under the current legal aid system for an entire trial, Brown said.

“That’s about three or a quarter of what’s needed to properly defend this case,” he said.

“So a lot of lawyers don’t take legal aid. Especially experienced lawyers don’t want to take legal aid because the money is too low.”


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