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What's the Legal Aid Ontario lawyers' boycott all about?

kim hart macneill

The Legal Aid Ontario boycott: Is it just about money?

The Legal Aid Ontario boycott: Is it just about money?

The Ontario Government is using single mothers to sell a proposed funding increase to legal aid the public, but lawyers aren’t buying it.

“Almost 70 per cent of family legal aid cases involve women making $22,000 or less per year. Nearly all of these cases involve children. This significant investment is critical to ensuring the safety of women and children in Ontario.”

– Pamela Cross,  Legal Consultant and advocate for female victims of violence

But the Canadian Legal Association Criminal Lawyers’ Association members and supporters aren’t boycotting cases involving women and children. The scope of the boycott clearly states only criminal cases, homicides and those under investigation by “Gangs and Guns” squads will be boycotted. These types of cases are what Legal Aid Ontario calls Big Case Management. The sheer number of BCMs tells the story of the boycott.

There are currently about 1230 active BCMs, 96 per cent were carried over from 2007-2008. In the first 6 months of 2009, 318 news cases were added and only 273 were resolved. The average length of a BCM is 3 to 4 years, and the average cost per defence lawyer in these cases is almost $30,000.

But how much of that money do the lawyers actually see? Not much, when you consider that the average hourly wage for a LAO lawyer in southern Ontario is about $87 per hour. That’s a lot more than many of us make, but after subtracting the cost of offices, support staff, equipment, and other overhead—not to mention the hefty student loans that financed their (deregulated) law school tuition in the first place—there’s seldom much left over.

LAO lawyers say they receive less funding for expert witnesses than prosecuting attorneys, who also have government funded offices, supplies and support staff. The CLA says the $150 million dollar funding increase by the McGuinty government barely covers the cuts and rate freezes of the past. In the last 22 years, compensation to LAO lawyers has risen only 15 per cent, and hasn’t factored in increases in population, support staff wages, or office rental. Crown lawyers received an 57 per cent wage increase between 1997 and 2007.

If our legal system is to remain fair, then the defence counsel (especially in the case of legal aid counsel) and prosecution must be equally up to the task of preparing and presenting their respective cases, regardless of who is paying the bill.

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