Lawyers Worrying That Legal Aid Changes Could Degrade Quality Of Legal Defences

The recent budget cuts to Legal Aid Ontario implemented by the provincial government has been met with a lot of backlash, with many a criminal defence, and shoplifting lawyer saying that it would, ultimately, be negative for the legal system.

An Ottawa law practitioner, Defence Lawyer Anne-Marie McElroy, is one of the many voices expressing concern about the funding cuts to LAO, considered the province’s legal aid system, noting how it could negatively impact the quality of legal representation specific people get; many who have to deal with a bail hearing or looking for someone to review of their bail decision might not be able to get funding for legal aid needed to get their own lawyer.

Instead, these people will receive representation from a duty counsel, also known as a legal aid staff lawyer, instead of a private defence, or shoplifting lawyer, someone more specialized.

McElroy explains, saying that lawyers in the private bar are different, either because they know the client, or have the time to know the client, their family, in order to come up with a plan that’ll be effective.

The issue is that duty counsel have such heavy workloads that they wouldn’t have that time. On top of that, is the additional workload, and the spreading of resources, which she says is thin enough as is.

Legal Aid Ontario says that people with bail hearings dealing with more serious cases will still be able to get legal aid funding to get proper representation, but McElroy states that people should always be allowed the counsel of their own choosing.

Director of Policy for Legal Aid Ontario, Marcus Pratt, notes that their staff lawyers currently handle 81% of the province’s bail hearings, so they have the experience necessary to deal with the cases. He says that there really isn’t much changing, at least on the client side. Providing quality services for their clients remain LAO’s focus, he says.

The provincial government issued an e-mailed statement on the recent changes, explaining that it’s to deal with redundancies in the legal system.

The Attorney General Caroline Mulroney’s Press Secretary, Jesse Robichaud, notes that the changes means that Legal Aid won’t have to find an extra criminal lawyer to take over another lawyer’s job, which is good for taxpayers, though problematic for lawyers who charge by the hour.