Manitoba’s criminal defence lawyers are taking job action, resulting in the halting of bail court services for Legal Aid Manitoba clients.
The Criminal Defence Lawyers Association of Manitoba (CDLAM) said it has a number of concerns, saying the Legal Aid tariff has not been increased in 12 years. It said it previously suspended job action in good faith on the understanding that the justice minister would engage in discussions about what it calls the ‘inadequacy’ of the tariff and the effect it has on access to justice for Manitobans.
As of Monday, private bar criminal defence lawyers across Manitoba will not be performing any bail court services on behalf of Legal Aid clients.
CDLAM said representatives met with the justice minister on Jan. 27, and said the minister “was unwilling to meaningfully discuss the tariff or the Legal Aid Manitoba budget.”
CDLAM said it learned that Legal Aid Manitoba is operating with a $1.5 million surplus, and said in 2018 the government instructed Legal Aid to use a portion of the surplus to increase staff lawyer wages.
Funding for LAM is provided by the provincial and federal governments, the Manitoba Law Foundation, and fees paid by clients. According to its website, roughly half of its cases are handled by lawyers on staff, while the other half are handled by private bar lawyers who are paid a fee for each case.
CDLAM said the Legal Aid tariff is ‘insufficient’ to support small businesses, resulting in fewer lawyers being able to do to Legal Aid work, and said those who continue to are forced to take on case volumes which can compromise the quality of the representation provided and the wellness of the lawyer.
In a statement to CTV News, a spokesperson for the province said Legal Aid Manitoba has indicated there are contingency plans in place, and the province said it will work with the Legal Aid Management Council to make sure people in need of legal representation are helped.
The statement acknowledged “the important role that private lawyers have to play in delivering those services.”
“We are optimistic that the Defence Lawyers Association of Manitoba will embrace this opportunity to work with the Legal Aid Management Council to establish a new way of doing business after they have met and fully reviewed the report and its recommendations,” it said.
CTV News has also reached out to Justice Minister Cliff Cullen for comment.
This is a developing story, and CTV News will update it as more details become available.