June 22, 2009

Ontario Lawyers Boycott Legal Aid Cases

Experienced criminal lawyers in Ontario are boycotting legal aid cases to protest the provincial government's refusal to raise the tariff, which currently pays $77 to $98 an hour depending on the lawyer's experience level, with caps on the number of hours paid. The boycott involves lawyers of more than five years' experience and applies to all murder, guns and gang cases.

An association of top litigators called The Advocates' Society has added its support to the boycott, pointing out that the citizens of Ontario can no longer afford the cost of a legal aid system that pays so poorly only the least-experienced lawyers are willing to accept cases.

"The adage, which applies to this market as well, is you get what you pay for," said Marie Henein, vice-president of The Advocates' Society. The rate of pay for legal aid lawyers has only increased by 15% since the 1980s, which is well below the increase in the cost of living in that time.

Though British Columbia has a problematic legal aid system of its own, which I have written about most recently here and here, the striking lawyers would like to see one aspect of the B.C. system adopted in Ontario.

In B.C., experienced lawyers are eligible for a higher tariff of $125 an hour when a case is deemed sufficiently lengthy or complex. This increased tariff was recommended in a report to the Ontario provincial government last November. The authors of the report – Patrick LeSage, former chief justice of Ontario's Superior Court of Justice, and former law professor Michael Code, who was recently appointed a judge – said raising the tariff to levels that would bring seasoned lawyers back to legal aid work is a solution to runaway trials.

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