Windsor's Legal Community Warns Of Possible Looming Crisis In Justice System


Concerns are being raised in Windsor's legal community over changes to the Criminal Code.

Under Bill C-75, legal students will be prevented from representing people accused of minor offences which Legal Assistance of Windsor says will result in more people representing themselves and will cause a backlog in the justice system.

Windsor criminal lawyer Daniel Topp believes it will cause a crisis in the system.

"If all these people become unrepresented litigants in the system, it is going to grind to a halt," he says. "The issue is when is the breaking point on the system."

The proposed changes extend the possible sentences for summary conviction offences from six months to two years and as a result, students won't be allowed to represent the client.

Minor offences would include uttering threats, shoplifting and theft under $5000.

There are also concerns the changes will hinder legal students from getting practical valuable experience while under the guidance of a lawyer.

"The efficient administration of justice system is all about maintaining civil society and if we see a breakdown in our system and it no longer functions, we have greater numbers of people who are unrepresented," warns Executive Director of Legal Assistance of Windsor Marion Overholt.

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(From L to R) President of the Association of Canadian Clinical Legal Education Gemma Smyth, Executive Director of Legal Assistance of Windsor Marion Overholt and Windsor criminal lawyer Daniel Topp. July 31, 2018 (Photo by AM800's Teresinha Medeiros)

President of the Association of Canadian Clinical Legal Education Gemma Smyth says one mistake should not impact someone's entire life.

"Having a lawyer can make a difference between having a criminal record for your life that impacts your employment, impacts your ability to get a job, we know we want people working, do we want one mistake preventing them from being able to do that," she says.

The bill goes before the justice committee in the fall.

Windsor officials are calling on the federal government to hit the pause button on the proposed changes and consult with the legal community.