July 4, 2020

Winnipeg
19° C, Partly cloudy

Full Forecast

WEATHER ALERT

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Province reaches out, private defence lawyers call off bail court job action

Private defence lawyers haven't received any cost-of-living pay increases for handling Legal Aid cases since 2008. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)</p>

Private defence lawyers haven't received any cost-of-living pay increases for handling Legal Aid cases since 2008. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

An association of criminal defence lawyers has opted not to strike this week — despite 100 per cent of its membership in support of taking job action over frozen Legal Aid Manitoba wages.

The Criminal Defence Lawyers Association of Manitoba confirmed Monday Justice Minister Cliff Cullen’s office reached out to the group over the weekend to organize a meeting at the end of the month.

A meeting between officials wasn’t a condition to suspend action, but association president Gerri Wiebe said the decision was made "in good faith" and hopes the province takes a similar tack Jan. 27.

"We take the impact of job action very seriously, on both our clients and the justice system as a whole and we will explore every viable option to be treated fairly," said Wiebe, a defence lawyer at Bueti Wasyliw Wiebe Law.

The $80-per-hour rate hasn’t been adjusted to account for the cost of living since their last strike prompted one in 2008.

In an effort to negotiate a pay increase with the province, about 150 defence lawyers had planned to stop appearing at bail hearings this week; compensation rates for lawyers in private practice, who handle the majority of Legal Aid court cases in Manitoba, haven't increased in 12 years.

Lawyers represented by CDLAM are contracted to represent defendants who qualify for legal aid support. Although, Wiebe said they aren’t compensated for all of their duties — including consent releases, in which lawyers must prepare evidence to prove their client should be let out on bail.

In 2018, the association recommended the province compensate lawyers for work on consent releases. Wiebe noted the province didn’t comply then, nor has it complied with any suggestions put forward to improve the model for years.

Provincial legislation currently requires that at least once every two years, tariffs paid to lawyers contracted by Legal Aid Manitoba be reviewed.

The process for setting rates for such services will be on the agenda during the meeting with CDLAM, a provincial spokesperson said in a statement Monday. Cullen was not immediately made available for an interview.

The spokesperson added that Manitoba Justice is committed to working with its partners "to ensure timely access to justice."

Meanwhile, Wiebe said the association wants a seat at the table if the province plans to alter the current model. "We deliver between 60 to 70 per cent of legal aid services in this province and we want to have a say in how that looks," Wiebe said.

Defence lawyer Christopher Gamby said Monday that funding Legal Aid is critical in order to provide marginalized defendants representation and prevent wrongful convictions.

Gamby said that some private-practice lawyers have been pivoting to the public sector due to the financial discrepancy between staff pay rates and compensation for lawyers who do contract work.

"We need to be properly funded in order to properly do our jobs," added Gamby, who practises with Pinx and Company.

In 2018-19, private lawyers closed 24,718 legal matters — 69 per cent of the total Legal Aid Manitoba cases closed during that period.

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

Read full biography

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.

The Free Press will close this commenting platform at noon on July 14.

We want to thank those who have shared their views over the years as part of this reader engagement initiative.

In the coming weeks, the Free Press will announce new opportunities for readers to share their thoughts and to engage with our staff and each other.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us