Attorney General Chris Bentley is encouraging criminal lawyers to stop boycotting the legal aid system, saying the province will consider enhanced fees for complex trials and end its practice of paying expert defence witnesses about half of what prosecution experts get.
Bentley unveiled more details yesterday of how the province would like to use the additional $150 million it plans to spend on legal aid services over the next four years, including more mediation for people immersed in family law disputes and expanding information programs for litigants entering a courthouse for the first time.
In an interview, Bentley said he plans to set up five working groups of “front-line practitioners” to discuss how the money should be used, part of what he is calling legal aid’s “transformation plan.” In the meantime, defence lawyers, who launched their protest June 1, should “continue to take cases,” he suggests.
“We have the money. We have our goals,” Bentley said. “I think we (now) want to get the good advice of lawyers. We want to know how the increased funding … will be translating into better support for the people who need access to (legal aid) services.”
The legal aid budget will increase to $315 million the first year, $330 million in year two, $345 million the next year and $360 million after that.
Frank Addario, president of the Criminal Lawyers Association, said while it is “a very good step,” legal aid’s base funding will still be “not sufficient” to attract junior lawyers and stop senior counsel from fleeing the program.