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Criminal

Legal Aid lawyers not necessarily cheaper than private counsel

Toronto criminal lawyer John Rosen says a move by Legal Aid Ontario to hire more in-house counsel to handle trials may not be a cost-effective way to manage expenses for the organization that provides counsel for low-income people.


He’s one of a number of private defence counsel who has noticed the spate of new hires at Legal Aid Ontario who appear to be handling an increasing number of trials.  For now, these cases involve minor charges instead of the usual first appearances and bail hearings, says Law Times.

Members of the private criminal defence bar are concerned that the changes are indicative of a move by the Province toward a U.S.-styled public-defender system – something Legal Aid Ontario staunchly denies, says the article.

“What I understand is happening is they’re hiring not just extra duty counsel but they’re hiring in-house counsel to actually do trials,” says Rosen.

In an interview with AdvocateDaily.com, he describes it as a "sort of creeping process that’s moving up the chain of seriousness of cases that will eventually include the most serious like murder" and will have implications for the private bar.

Legal Aid has said it believes in the vibrant private bar but that the Legal Aid Services Act provides for a mixed system, says Law Times.  The arm’s-length government organization notes in the article that the hiring of additional staff members follows a financial analysis that indicated it’s cheaper to hire staff lawyers rather than pay private lawyers to do the work on a per diem basis.

Rosen, partner at Rosen Naster LLP, disagrees and says it may not be less expensive and the cost savings may be illusory.

“The reality is, if you’re an employee, you’re going to work employee hours and you’re going to have an employee’s mentality.” he tells Law Times.

He tells AdvocateDaily.com, that "only the private bar is willing to work the nights and weekends required to get the job done properly."

Legal Aid said in the Law Times article that the duty-counsel manual has always allowed those lawyers to take any steps that might be appropriate to protect a client’s rights, something that can include trials (although the manual says trials are “beyond the normal function of duty counsel”).

But an expanding role for duty counsel may become a way to provide access to justice for those who have low incomes but don’t qualify for certificates, says Legal Aid in the article.

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