Provinces must prioritize legal aid to meet top court’s time limits

Since the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in R. v. Jordan set aside drug convictions over unreasonable court delays, efforts to ensure trial delays don’t exceed 18 months in provincial court and 20 months in superior courts are front and centre.

At a meeting of Canada’s justice ministers held in late Sept 2017, Ministers heard from front line lawyers who explained that ongoing underfunding of legal aid is largely responsible for the problem. Not only does underfunding have a disproprotionate negative affect on poor people, the lack of funding means that young defence counsel are not getting the mentoring and training from senior counsel required to help make the judicial process run smoothly.

Richard Fowler, Q.C. was quoted in his capacity as a member of the board of governors of the Trial Lawyers Association of B.C., as follows:

…legal aid cuts have meant senior lawyers can’t take on junior lawyers who need training in court so their cases don’t get thrown out over mistakes due to inexperience.

“It’s the only way you can learn,” Fowler said. “It’s an apprenticeship system. The Crown does it, police officers sometimes come and watch other officers testify.

“There has to be an injection of capital into legal aid to encourage and to facilitate senior counsel, experienced counsel doing legal aid cases like murder cases, manslaughter cases and sexual assault cases,” said Fowler.

“The immediate response to Jordan is we need more judges and we need more prosecutors,” Fowler said. “Everybody’s response is to do that and they did that in Ontario and Quebec. You can have all the judges in the world, you can have all the prosecutors in the world. But if you don’t have defence counsel that are properly trained, properly skilled, those cases are not going to run smoothly.

Click to read the Provinces must prioritize legal aid to meet top court’s time limits