Ontario wants public defenders, lawyers disagree
TORONTO — The Ontario government’s commitment to change the province’s current legal aid program to a public defender system, similar to what exists in many states in the USA, has been condemned by the Law Society of Upper Canada as establishing a two-tier justice system–one for the rich and one for the poor.
Urging the government to abandon its proposed changes to the system, Vern Krishna, Treasurer of the Law Society, cautioned that public defender systems in other jurisdictions, including the U.S., have experienced “spiralling costs and over-burdened lawyers with unmanageable caseloads” which “result in tragic miscarriages of justice.”
As well, Krishna called on the government to continue negotiations with the Coalition for Legal Aid Traffic Reform to redress “the inadequacies in legal aid certificate funding”.
The provincial government intends to alter the legal aid system by proposing hire staff lawyers to perform legal aid work as well as contracting for services with individual lawyers and law firms. Currently the legal aid system is based on the province paying for legal services of private lawyers, particularly, in family law and criminal cases, through a certificate system.
Ontario Attorney General David Young claimed that Ontario legal aid lawyers, who are paid about $88, per hour are among the highest paid in the country. In addition, he noted that these lawyers have recently deployed a number of tactics, such as attempting to disrupt or shut down preceedings in courts, refusing to accept new clients and pressuring low-income clients to pay them a cash retainer, to gain a new rate of $125.00 per hour.
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