Criminal Lawyers’ Association calls on Ontario for more funding of legal aid

The Criminal Lawyers’ Association is calling on the Ontario government to boost the province’s legal aid program, saying insufficient funding is leading to more accused being unrepresented and discouraging young lawyers from staying in defence law.

The association, which wrote to the province last month seeking a funding model that keeps pace with the cost of living, said it’s set to meet with the government next week to discuss the issue.

Association president Daniel Brown said stagnant legal aid funding has led to many accused having to represent themselves in Ontario courts because they don’t qualify for the program, which in turn leads to inefficiency in the justice system and places an extra burden on the courts.

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

Cases involving unrepresented accused can take three or four times longer than cases with criminal defence lawyers, Brown said.

“We have judges who have to spend time teaching self-represented accused persons how to defend themselves. They have to equip them with the knowledge and they have to spend extra time with them in courts,” he said.

“[The accused] have long meandering questions and convoluted legal applications that often don’t go anywhere because they don’t know what they’re doing. It’s like the equivalent to somebody trying to do their own open heart surgery. It’s a recipe for disaster.”

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

The low income cutoff for legal aid falls well below the poverty line, Brown noted.

“Somebody who is making a minimum wage job would not qualify for legal aid,” he said. “Quite frankly, they wouldn’t have any hope of paying for private counsel, especially in the complex cases in the Superior Court.”

Betty Vavougios, president of Ontario

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Law Society: Proposed legal aid fee increase marks progress but more action needed

Law Society: Proposed legal aid fee increase marks progress but more action needed

A proposed rise in legal aid fees is a step in the right direction, but further action is urgently needed to resolve the long-term crisis in the sector, the Law Society of Scotland has said.

Following discussions with the Law Society, the Scottish government has proposed an £11 million increase in spend across both criminal and civil legal aid fees for solicitors.

The society has said while the proposals do not resolve all of the long-term, deep-rooted problems in legal aid, it is a step towards addressing some of its concerns, including the need to reverse the acute reduction in the number of solicitors currently able to offer civil, children’s and criminal legal aid.

In addition to increasing legal aid fees, the Law Society has stated that a robust fee review system will be essential to ensure the long-term sustainability of the legal aid sector and ensuring access to justice.

Murray Etherington, president of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “While this brings much needed progress, after more than two decades of chronic underfunding, the government’s proposed increase does not fully resolve the deep-rooted issues in the legal aid sector.

“Access to legal services is a key part of living in a fair and just society. However across Scotland, the network of legal aid support is diminishing, while the demand for help is increasing.

“In many areas, including some of the poorest parts of the country, people are unable to access a legal aid solicitor. That means that some people cannot access the legal advice or representation they need and can be severely disadvantaged as a result, for example if they have been unfairly dismissed from work or are going through a complex family matter.

“We are keen to see the proposed increase implemented as quickly as possible. We

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Civil legal aid review in the pipeline, agency reveals | News

The government has quietly revealed that it will embark on a major review of civil legal aid – but the chief executive of a practitioner group warns it could be too little, too late to prevent the sector shrinking further.

The Legal Aid Agency announced yesterday that it was extending 2018 standard civil contracts until 31 August 2024 ‘to allow us time to consider findings from the planned Ministry of Justice Civil Legal Aid Review’.

The ministry has repeatedly told the Gazette that the government has been conducting an internal review on civil legal aid sustainability. Yesterday’s announcement appears to be the first official confirmation of a major review.

A spokesperson for the MoJ told the Gazette today that more detail on the terms of reference and process for the review will be announced shortly.

As well as the findings of its internal sustainability review, the ministry will have a wealth of research to feed into the review, including the Law Society’s review on sustainability and the findings of the Legal Aid Practitioner Group’s legal aid census.

After conducting what is believed to be the biggest inquiry on legal aid, the Westminster Commission on Legal Aid published a 95-page report this time last year. The House of Commons justice select committee also conducted an inquiry on the future of legal aid.

According to government figures, there were 1,369 providers with civil contracts in February 2022. There were 2,134 providers in April 2012 – a year before the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) came into force. LASPO removed vast areas of law – such as housing family, immigration, employment and welfare benefits – out of scope for legal aid. The LAA has repeatedly had to plug gaps in advice provision, particularly in housing.

Law Society president I.

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Society edges closer to nuclear option on legal aid | News

Striking criminal barristers will vote this week on whether to accept the government’s revised legal aid offer – as the Law Society edges one step closer to issuing an unprecedented warning over the future of criminal defence work.

Justice secretary Brandon Lewis is hoping he has done enough to end the criminal bar’s action, which began in April, by offering what he announced last week was a package of reforms representing a further £54m investment in the criminal bar and solicitors.

Members of the Criminal Bar Association will be balloted on the new offer tomorrow. The ballot will close on Sunday and the results will be announced the following day.

However, the Law Society is unhappy about the deal, warning that it would advise members not to undertake criminal defence work if the government does not offer the minimum 15% fee uplift recommended for solicitors by the Bellamy review. Chancery Lane repeated the warning following an urgent meeting with justice minister Gareth Johnson MP on the day the new deal was announced.

Of the £54m being offered, £19m is earmarked for solicitors and the Ministry of Justice says further uplifts for solicitors will be announced later this year. However, the Society says the further investment is mainly a one-off and not increasing rates in the long-term, so solicitors are still well below the 15% increase barristers are receiving.

Chancery Lane said it presented its arguments ‘strongly’ to the minister.

Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said it was positive that, as a former minister criminal defence practitioner, Johnson understood the problems in the criminal justice system. ‘However, rather than anything substantial, all that is currently being offered to solicitors by the government is more promises of jam tomorrow. We will continue to push for a fair deal for solicitors for

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Maine’s largest legal aid group gets new director as more people seek housing help

Tom Fritzsche has come full circle.

The new executive director of Pine Tree Legal Assistance, the statewide organization that provides legal services to low-income Mainers in civil matters, grew up in Kennebunk. His father, retired Superior Court Justice Paul Fritzsche, worked for the group from 1975 to 1981.

He’s taken over the legal aid group at a time when it’s seen an increase in requests for housing-related help as a large emergency rental assistance program funded by federal COVID relief money has stopped accepting new applications, as well as an uptick in requests for help from domestic violence victims.

Fritzsche, 41, of Portland has been on the job since early September. He took over the reins of the organization after Nan Heald, who headed the organization for more than three decades, died of cancer in January at age 66.

Pine Tree Legal, which opened in 1967, is the largest legal aid organization in Maine.

Fritzsche oversees a staff of 75 — including 47 attorneys and 15 paralegals — in offices in Portland, Lewiston, Augusta, Bangor, Machias and Presque Isle. Its 2022 budget is $8.67 million, with about 34 percent coming from federal funding and about 48 percent from the state. The rest of the budget is funded through grants and donations.

Now that MaineHousing is no longer accepting new applications for the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, Pine Tree Legal has seen the demand for help with housing-related issues increase, Fritzsche said. 

In the first three months of 2022, the organization opened 1,027 new housing cases, which made up 61 percent of all of the organization’s new cases in that time. Since July 1, it has opened 1,266 new housing cases.

“Right now, low-income Mainers face an ongoing housing crisis that is about to get dramatically worse,”

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Rikers Staff Tampered With Forms To Hide Intake Violations: Legal Aid

NEW YORK CITY — Rikers Island staff may have tampered with intake data to hide the fact new detainees were held too long in cramped intake cells, the Legal Aid Society announced Monday.

The public defenders group released documents showing new detainees at Riker’s Eric M. Taylor Center were held for more than 24 hours in quarters without bathrooms, beds or access to food and medicine, a Legal Aid Society spokesperson said.

“This seriously diminishes the credibility of the City’s public assertions that they have solved their long-standing problem of holding people for days in these uninhabitable areas,” said Legal Aid staff attorney Kayla Simpson. “The public deserves answers.”

Patch did not receive an immediate response to our request for comment, but a spokesperson for the city’s Correction department issued a statement to New York Focus.

“We hold transparency and integrity in high regard,” the spokesperson said. “We will continue to hold staff accountable so that our jails are run efficiently and that people in our custody are safe.”

The documents in question — obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request — pertain to city regulations that mandate jails process and house people within 24 hours of coming into custody.

The Eric M. Taylor Center became the main facility for men’s intake in 2021 after a federal judge issued an order requiring the DOC to limit intake stays to 24 hours.

But Legal Aid said the newly released records show at least 17 incidents over a two days in June when the admissions data was altered to extend expiration dates.

Changes to the data occurred when a newly-admitted person in custody was approaching the 24-hour limit and, in some instances, following the expiration, according to the analysis.

The New York City Board of Correction wrote a letter addressed to

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Scotland’s most deprived communities facing ‘chronic’ shortage of legal aid firms

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Scotland’s most deprived communities facing chronic shortage of legal aid firms

Thousands of people in Scotland’s most deprived communities are facing a chronic shortage of civil legal aid firms, lawyers have warned.

The Law Society of Scotland said the 100,000 people living in the most deprived communities had access to just 29 civil legal aid firms.

Legal aid for civil court actions is only offered to people with a disposable income of less than £293 per month.

The Law Society, which represents the legal profession, said many people in these communities will be forced to represent themselves in divorce proceedings, child custody hearings and immigration hearings.

It has long argued that the Scottish Government’s funding for legal aid is insufficient, and law society president Murray Etherington said the system was in “crisis” in July.

The Law Society has teamed up with author and commentator, Darren McGarvey, to campaign for improvements in legal aid provision in deprived communities.

Darren McGarvey

Mr McGarvey, author of Poverty Safari, said: “Just imagine standing in a courtroom on your own to argue your case, up against an experienced solicitor. Now imagine that the custody of your child is at stake.

“Or a life-changing payout after an industrial accident.

“The absurdity of that proposition, combined with inequalities within the justice, healthcare, and education systems, is exactly why I am supporting the Law Society of Scotland to highlight the real issues that real people in Scotland face. Something has to change.”

He continued: “Those who are already most disadvantaged are having their last line of defence pulled away from them.

“The Scottish Government has let inflation quietly chip away at legal aid fees over the last two decades – now we need to catch up.”

Ministers have

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‘Judicial review king’ wins legal aid for jab case

A man who is challenging the government’s bid to annul some 20,000 Covid vaccine exemption certificates has been granted legal aid for the case.

Kwok Cheuk-kin’s application for legal aid had earlier been rejected on the grounds that he’s not directly affected by the case because he’s triple-jabbed.

But speaking outside the High Court on Tuesday, Kwok said he has successfully appealed against the decision.

“The reason for the successful appeal is that it’s a case of public interest and the Legal Aid Department should not reject me,” Kwok cited the judge as saying.

Kwok, who is also dubbed “king of judicial reviews” for the numerous legal challenges he filed, will return to court on Thursday for a hearing on his judicial review on the government’s attempt to invalidate vaccine exemption certificates issued by seven doctors suspected of giving them out without conducting proper medical consultations.

The certificates allow people who are not fully vaccinated to enter premises like restaurants. Government lawyers argue that the invalidation is justified on public health grounds and say that people affected can visit another doctor, including public doctors for free, to seek a new exemption certificate.

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Criminal Lawyers’ Association calling on Ontario for more funding for legal aid

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press

TORONTO — The Criminal Lawyers’ Association is calling on the Ontario government to boost the province’s legal aid program, saying insufficient funding is leading to more accused being unrepresented and discouraging young lawyers from staying in defence law. 

The association, which wrote to the province last month seeking a funding model that keeps pace with the cost of living, said it’s set to meet with the government next week to discuss the issue. 

Association president Daniel Brown said stagnant legal aid funding has led to many accused having to represent themselves in Ontario courts because they don’t qualify for the program, which in turn leads to inefficiency in the justice system and places an extra burden on the courts.  

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

Cases involving unrepresented accused can take three or four times longer than cases with criminal defence lawyers, Brown said. 

“We have judges who have to spend time teaching self-represented accused persons how to defend themselves. They have to equip them with the knowledge and they have to spend extra time with them in courts,” he said. 

“(The accused) have long meandering questions and convoluted legal applications that often don’t go anywhere because they don’t know what they’re doing. It’s like the equivalent to somebody trying to do their own open heart surgery. It’s a recipe for disaster.”

The low income cutoff for legal aid falls well below the poverty line, Brown noted. 

“Somebody who is making a minimum wage job would not qualify for legal aid,” he said. “Quite frankly, they wouldn’t have any hope of paying for private counsel, especially in the complex cases in the Superior Court.”

Betty Vavougios, president of Ontario Crown Attorneys’s Association said court runs less efficiently

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Free legal aid available to help expunge cannabis convictions, arrests in Illinois

Illinois’ legalization of cannabis didn’t automatically clear records for those previously arrested or convicted marijuana violations. But the state created a process to offer support to get the records clear.

New Leaf Illinois, a state-funded network of 20 nonprofit legal aid and advocacy organizations, aims to clear past cannabis arrests and convictions for free. It was created to correct the unequal enforcement of old cannabis laws that disproportionately targeted communities of color.

An effort to spread the word comes on the heels of President Joseph Biden’s executive order that will pardon those with federal convictions for simple cannabis possession.

New Leaf partners aim to spread information about how to get records expunged with free legal aid resources.

According to New Leaf Illinois:
A two-year impact study on the organization’s efforts on “cannabis expungement shows that free legal services have been provided in 79 of 102 counties in Illinois. To date, 311 cannabis convictions have been vacated and expunged and 183 non-conviction and other cannabis records have been expunged and sealed.

Attorney Beth Johnson, project manager for New Leaf Illinois, said, “The presidential pardons issued are an act of forgiveness and reconciliation of past harms and the barriers faced by people because of outdated, failed policies.”

“Some cannabis records in Illinois fell under the automatic pardon and expungement process, but there are thousands more that did not and require a court filing. If you or your loved one wonder about the status of a past cannabis arrest or conviction or aren’t sure how to approach the expungement process, reach out to New Leaf today,” she added.

New Leaf helps people determine their eligibility for relief through an online registration portal www.newleafillinois.org or via phone at (855) 963-9532.

“Legal aid organizations within the New Leaf Illinois network provide free services in

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