Defence lawyers suspend bail court job action after meeting set with Justice Minister
WINNIPEG -- A planned job action from private defence lawyers that would have seen the majority of Legal Aid clients go unrepresented in Manitoba bail courts this week has been suspended, according to the president of the Criminal Defence Laywers Association of Manitoba.
The lawyers -- around 150 -- had planned to cease performing bail court services for Legal Aid clients between Jan. 13 to Jan. 17, to draw attention to a pay rate that’s been frozen since 2008.
The association said staff lawyers for Legal Aid get paid the same as Crown attorneys, while the private defence lawyers who take on 60 to 70 per cent of Legal Aid clients are paid a tariff based on how serious the charge is.
It said in spite of the association asking for an increase to the tariffs every second year since then, they have not gone up, and the provincial government hasn’t responded to its recommendations.
“As a result, much of the work done by private bar defense counsel ends up being be pro-bono, either because the time spent on the file far exceeds the hours contemplated in the tariff, or because certain things, like consent bails, are not paid for despite often requiring hours of extra work,” said the association in a news release Friday, adding that defence lawyers operate as small businesses and the tariffs get eaten up by overhead costs.
It also pointed out private lawyers don’t receive benefits or a pension from Legal Aid.
On Monday, the association told CTV News it heard from the justice minister’s office Sunday afternoon, when a meeting with the minister was arranged and the lawyers decided to hold off on the planned job action.
“We take job action and its impact on both our clients and the justice system very seriously, so as long as there are viable options open to us we will explore them,” said Gerri Wiebe, president of the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association of Manitoba in an email to CTV News Winnipeg.
In response to the lawyers’ concerns, a government spokesperson provided CTV News with a statement, confirming the meeting has been set and saying Manitoba Justice is committed to working with partners to “ensure timely access to justice.”
“We hope to discuss several issues, including the process going forward for setting the tariff rates for services provided on behalf of Legal Aid Manitoba,” the statement said.