Cauchon Vows To Act on Legal-Aid Reform

Cauchon Vows To Act on Legal-Aid Reform
Posted by CN Staff on August 13, 2002 at 07:57:01 PT
By Kirk Makin 
Source: Globe and Mail 
The failings of provincial legal-aid programs across the country have reached a point where a major overhaul may be required, Justice Minister Martin Cauchon said yesterday. He said he intends to enlist the aid of the provinces this fall in a concerted attempt either to reform the much-maligned legal-aid system or remodel it altogether. "We recognize that there are mounting pressures on the legal-aid system, which, left unchecked, could compromise the very integrity of Canada's justice system," Mr. Cauchon told the Canadian Bar Association's annual convention in London, Ont.
"If the system is broken, we'll have to fix it altogether."He said he intends to provoke "an open and frank discussion with my colleagues in order to fix the problem once and for all. It is a priority this fall. To my mind, we have to come up with concrete solutions, let's say next year."I started to feel the moment I became Justice Minister that there is an increasing concern by the Canadian population. It is more than an increase in pressure; it is a reality. At this point in time, when I talk to people in the justice system -- lawyers across the country -- I don't really feel that we have the access we want to have."Mr. Cauchon characterized the legal-aid situation as symptomatic of a criminal-justice system that needs a thorough review.This all-encompassing review will begin this fall, Mr. Cauchon said, and will involve many of the "stakeholders" who have an interest in how the government goes about bringing the Criminal Code in step with the times."Canadian society has experienced profound change during the last two decades and I believe it is appropriate to ask ourselves whether we are satisfied with the overall functioning of our criminal-justice system," he said.Two other areas that warrant attention are family law and marijuana laws, Mr. Cauchon said.Family law could take into account the potentially devastating effect of family breakdowns on children, he said, which would allow specialist judges to use simplified procedures in a non-threatening environment.Marijuana laws could also be reviewed, Mr. Cauchon said.Decriminalization is a distinct possibility, he said, "but I emphasize that to decriminalize doesn't mean marijuana will be legal."Mr. Cauchon said he had numerous conversations with people over the summer who said, " 'Mr. Cauchon, it doesn't make sense for simple possession to end up causing a criminal record.'"We have to look at where our society is and be able to update our legislation."Legal aid, however, dominated the question period after Mr. Cauchon's speech.Lawyers repeatedly accused successive governments of making empty promises even as legal aid became increasingly inaccessible to the needy and the justice system bogged down under the weight of unrepresented litigants."We've had it up to here with the buck-passing," said one lawyer. "We're hoping that the buck is going to stop."The 37,000-member CBA has made legal aid an organizational priority. On Sunday, it announced a major change in strategy, switching from quiet backroom lobbying to the pursuit of a series of test cases aimed at establishing in court that the right to legal aid is guaranteed under the Constitution."Legal aid is the key to our legal system," Mr. Cauchon assured the CBA. "If we have to reform the system, how long is it going to take? Meanwhile, people that need legal aid are going to have to have more and more funding. These are questions we're going to have to look at this fall."Note: Justice Minister says he'll ask provinces to help overhaul beleaguered system.Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)Author:  Kirk MakinPublished: Tuesday, August 13, 2002  Print Edition, Page A4Copyright: 2002 The Globe and Mail CompanyContact: letters globeandmail.caWebsite: Articles & Web Site:Canadian Links Considers New Look at Legal System Plans for Legal Pot There's Smoke, There's Disagreement
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