A new tile is falling on the justice system, already on the verge of collapse, with defense lawyers preparing to boycott sexual assault and domestic violence cases to denounce rates below the minimum wage.
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"The pricing is practically equivalent to working for free, so much so that private lawyers are abandoning legal aid mandates, forcing the accused to represent themselves alone, which increases delays," says Me Élizabeth Ménard, president of the Association des Montreal defense lawyers.
For more than two years, criminal lawyers have been demanding better rates when defending impoverished defendants.
These are paid between $415 and $600 per case, while a single case can require dozens of hearings, not to mention the time needed to prepare it, which often amounts to working under minimum wage.
“The needs were already glaring at the time, they are even more so today,” says Me Ménard.
Faced with the government's inaction despite the report of a working group, the lawyers' associations want to put in place means of pressure "soon", such as the boycott of certain cases, to make it understood that it is time to stop underfunding fees for legal aid mandates.
This will cause even more delays.
Not the only ones
Added to this is the recent strike by legal aid lawyers, without a collective agreement for more than two years, who are demanding salary conditions equal to those of Crown prosecutors.
"Over time, justice has been neglected, particularly in terms of funding, and the consequences of this negligence on citizens have been underestimated," said Quebec President Catherine Claveau.
Taking into account the departure of court clerks, assistants, court ushers and office agents who leave for the municipal, federal or private sector where they are paid at least $20,000 more annually, the stakeholders of the system warn that justice will hit a wall sooner rather than later.
And that's not counting the waves of departures of special constables, reducing security where there are many criminals on bail.
According to all the stakeholders contacted by Le Journal, the solution to the staff shortage is simple: offer competitive salaries in order to attract, but also to keep the best.
Because the consequences of this crisis are very real. Every day in Montreal, courtrooms open late or remain closed, causing delays for the accused, but also for the anxious victims who wait to testify in order to turn the page on the crimes they have suffered.
“We are living through a crisis, a disaster. At some point, we will no longer be able to perform miracles. »
– Jacques Fournier, Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Quebec
“To date, no initiative has made it possible to counter the large number of departures of assistants and to alleviate recruitment problems. »
– Lucie Rondeau, Chief Justice of the Court of Quebec
“The system has reached its limits. At present, there are very real risks of slippages or disruptions in services that could cause significant harm to citizens. »
– Me Catherine Claveau, president of Quebec
“The criminal justice system is completely broken and collapsing. »
– Me Élizabeth Ménard, president of the Montreal Defense Lawyers Association
“Courthouses operate without special constables to ensure the safety of the public and staff inside the courtrooms. Citizens are entitled to expect better from their government. »
– Franck Perales, President of the Syndicate of Special Constables of the Government of Quebec