Access to legal services is an issue that affects a great number of Canadians, as everyone is likely to experience a legal problem at some point in their lives. When not addressed properly, that problem can often spiral out of control and spread to other areas of our lives – particularly for more marginalized people. And yet, legal aid funding is hardly ever brought up as an election issue—as the last federal campaign demonstrated.
Could it be that Canadians don’t care enough about people whose lives are upended by their legal problems?
What’s more, many of those with a front-row view of the problem aren’t in a position to speak up. Judges, in particular, see firsthand the havoc that underfunding of legal aid wreaks, but worry about interfering directly in political matters, says Michael Spratt, a partner and criminal lawyer with Abergel Goldstein & Partners LLP in Ottawa. Their restraint – beyond the Chief Justice raising the issue on an annual basis when talking about access to justice – is a hindrance to a better understanding of the stakes.
“Judges see day-in and day-out what happens when there are unrepresented accused before the court,” says Spratt. “They see their court time wasted, and they see efficiencies lost that defence lawyers can bring, and they also see a higher number of individuals pleading guilty or making decisions that they might regret at some future point because there is no advocate on their side.”
Read Dale Smith’s full article: CBA National Magazine