Monday, January 25, 2010

Showdown at High Noon: the Legal Aid Boycott


It is Monday again and I happened to have been back in the barristers’ lounge at the Windsor court with some free time.  I had more than a few minutes, while I was on a break on a case where the arguments were presented in writing and we were waiting to hear if the judge wanted something more or was just going to give her decision without further argument.  In the end she reserved.

The latest news is the settlement of the Ontario criminal lawyers legal aid boycott.  As I remember, the boycott began last spring.  It started in Toronto and then rolled out across the province, mainly involving murder and “guns and gangs” cases.  The Criminal Lawyers Association executive ended up negotiating a deal with the Province of Ontario.  What each is saying about the deal is a little different.  It is not clear now whether there will be some formal ratification vote of the members or if it will be accepted by an ad hoc consensus, but in any event, it looks to be an accomplished fact.

Most of the membership appears to be happy about the settlement, but from my perspective, I am not sure about whether I think it is a good deal or not.  I am inclined to think it is, as a lot of naysayers predicted that in this economy, there was no sympathy for criminal lawyers.  As well, our legal rate exceeds rates everywhere else in Canada. 

That said, for starters, it remains to be seen whether a proper review mechanism will be part of the new regime.  Also, although we didn't demand parity with prosecutors, the deal is shy of the original modest demands we made and it will take a full five years before the promised increases take effect.

It was really a brilliant strategy on the part of the executive to boycott only major cases.  With that approach, we were able to achieve significant solidarity.  The reality was that with most of covered cases being murder prosecutions, the accused were not getting bail anyways, and for the majority of them, time was on their side.  So most lawyers could hold firm without it impacting on their practice at all.  On the other side, the province was thus in some significant difficulty because more and more major cases were going undefended, meaning more and more prosecutions were in significant jeopardy. 

There was however a deadline that the executive set for itself and criminal lawyers were on the brink of having to enlarge their work action.  Yet that would no doubt have resulted in some loss of solidarity.  The province was in a bind too, to get their major cases on track again.  So at eleventh hour, the parties settled and there was no showdown.

Monday, January 18, 2010

First Post

I have practiced criminal law for longer than I care to say.  In embarking on this blog journey, it appears I should have some focus, even something more specific than the very general subject of Canadian criminal law. On the other hand, I am not sure I need to be specific about anything. It might be simply enough to write about my experiences and thoughts as they relate to my daily practice.

Let me then have the opportunity to develop this blog and when I have figured out if I have a special theme, I can let my reader or readers know.  I say reader or readers to imply there will be at least one reader, for starters, myself.

I have figured I would create a log on a regular basis, but do not plan on making it daily.  Confidentiality requirements will not permit me to detail my activities, as I might otherwise be able to do.  That said, nothing prevents me from reporting about many of my experiences.

Today, for instance, was extremely slow.  Most days for me will involve a court appearance of sort or the other.  There are several kinds:  There might be one or more trials, or preliminary hearings, or bail hearings, many of these are only set to take a day or less.  Today, I had none and so nothing to prepare for.  Of course, there are always things to do in the office in the management of files, but today I had to be over in court for adjournments and to do duty counsel.  Because there was nothing pressing at the courthouse, I was able to start working on my blog in the barristers' lounge right on the 6th floor of the building.

I am the most senior duty counsel in Windsor.  Why I still do it, I wonder.  Sometimes, the work can be demanding, but being assigned to do bail court in Windsor normally does not require much of a challenge. I will probably have more to write about this in later blogs, but for now, I will just say a bail court posting requires me to speak to cases on behalf of unrepresented individuals or for other lawyers.  Normally, at least six or seven hearings would be scheduled in the bail court, but today there was only one, then another, neither of which proceeded.  It was not even necessary for me to speak to either case because their lawyer or lawyers were there when the matters were called.  The court finished early, before lunch.

So I started my first blog...