Legal Aid Lawyers and Criminal Lawyers' Association Reach Historic Agreement

TORONTO, Dec. 11, 2013 /CNW/ - At a press conference at Queen's Park media studio today at 2:15 pm, the Criminal Lawyers' Association (CLA) and Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) lawyers will announce an unprecedented Criminal Justice Protocol Agreement ("CJPA"). The CJPA strikes a binding relationship based on the mutual support of the two groups.

The agreement is in response to, and an effort to avert, a growing crisis in Ontario arising from Legal Aid Ontario's modernization efforts and their impact on criminal justice. Lasting for a term of five years, the binding agreement contains key commitments including: protecting their professional and ethical obligations; addressing issues relating to a lack of funding for legal aid clients; and creating alliances to support one another in the event of any job actions. Mutual concerns surrounding the current leadership and direction of Legal Aid Ontario brought the two groups together.

Anthony Moustacalis, President of the CLA stated that, "The legal aid system is in dire need of greater funding. The federal government must also step up and contribute their fair share -particularly in the light of its' ever burgeoning criminal justice agenda. To make matters worse financial eligibility for legal aid has remained unchanged for over two decades resulting in the denial of access to justice for the vast majority of low income Ontarians every day."

In Ontario if you want to assert your innocence by having a trial and you make more than $10,800.00, you are ineligible for legal aid. However, if you make $18,500.00 you can receive representation to plead guilty. The parties will advocate together to end such imbalances.

"Never before have legal aid staff lawyers and private criminal defence lawyers engaged in an agreement such as this", said Jillian Rogin, LAO Duty Counsel Lawyer.

LAO lawyers have been engaged in a campaign to secure collective bargaining rights for more than a year. Despite having the support of numerous organizations and individuals, including that of Ontario's Attorney General John Gerretsen who publicly endorsed LAO lawyers' right to collectively bargain, the CEO of LAO refuses to recognize this right. Under the new agreement, the CLA, representing over 1000 criminal lawyers, can now be added to the growing list of supporters. In addition, the agreement recognizes that a private, vibrant, independent, private-sector bar is essential to the fair administration of criminal justice in Ontario. This is the same commitment made by Ontario and LAO that the CLA entered into under a Memorandum of Understanding that ended a boycott of legal aid in 2010.

The agreement will serve as a model for the criminal justice system and the impacts it has on family law issues, clients with mental health issues, and refugee claimants who comprise the most vulnerable, marginalized people in Ontario. In joining forces, the CLA and the LAO lawyers represent virtually all of the service providers of criminal defence services in Ontario.

SOURCE Legal Aid Ontario Lawyers' Organizing Campaign

For further information:

Jillian Rogin 647-466-8448 www.laolawyers.ca, Anthony Moustacalis 416-879-5698, Lou Strezos 416-459-0575, Bill Fitzpatrick 416-886-3793