A coalition of Quebec lawyers’ organizations that launched a series of pressure tactics over the summer to compel the Quebec government to implement sweeping reforms to the legal aid fee structure for Private sector lawyers canceled the labor disputes after the Barreau du Québec reached an agreement with the provincial government.
The agreement, reached on August 25, will partially revise the legal aid fee schedule, expand the number of files that will make it easier to obtain additional compensation for long and complex mandates and will introduce 14 recommendations deemed urgent by a independent committee of experts who called on the Government of Quebec to immediately implement the “necessary and urgent” reforms to the legal aid fee structure for private sector lawyers. The pact also creates a new committee that will oversee the implementation of changes to the Quebec law. Legal Aid Actand thoroughly analyze and make recommendations on a new fee structure.
“It’s a good deal. It’s a first agreement to catch up a little, but there was a real urgency to settle things that should have been settled a long time ago, ”declared Catherine Claveau, president of the Barreau du Québec. “This implementation is a preliminary and essential step towards a complete structural reform of legal aid in Quebec.
Following the agreement, the lawyers’ organizations voted to end the job action. In addition to the half-day and full-day work stoppages, Quebec criminal lawyers from the private sector showed up at the courthouses at 11:00 a.m., creating a mess of dockets and refusing legal aid cases involving sexual and domestic violence because these are complex files for which several legal acts were not remunerated. “We are very happy,” said Marie-Pier Boulet, president of the Quebec Defense Lawyers Association. “We demanded reforms and this is a first step. It represents a new way of doing things.
Élizabeth Ménard, Association of Defense Lawyers of Montreal
According to Élizabeth Ménard, a Montreal criminal lawyer and head of the Association of Defense Lawyers of Montreal (AADM), the new agreement marks an important and welcome step towards a significant reform of legal aid. “It gives us hope for the future, in the government’s approach and the importance it places on access to justice and improving the legal aid system,” Ménard said. . “There is no doubt that we have made some very significant gains and we are on the right track. We are therefore very satisfied.
The agreement was triggered by the release of a report by a five-member expert panel that issued 181 recommendations to overhaul Quebec’s legal aid system and its fee structure. Led by former Chief Justice of the Court of Quebec Élizabeth Corte, the report states that the current system of mixed remuneration based on a fixed price and a fee for service, although “imperfect”, must continue to prevail to attract both young and experienced practitioners. But the block fee structure must be reviewed and rethought because it does not currently take into account the workload of a practitioner at each stage of the mandate, in particular the efforts relating to the analysis of the file and the preparation for the hearings. , adds the report which notes that the number of claims for additional compensation has exploded from 668 claims in 2015 to 1,580 in the 2020-21 financial year. In total, the report makes 14 recommendations considered urgent – all of which have been adopted by the new agreement.
The new agreement, in addition to doubling legal aid fees for appeals, overhauls special consideration policies and establishes a category of “special” cases who will benefit from the new compensation plan, as recommended by experts. Under this provision of the agreement, private bar lawyers who take on legal aid assignments will be compensated for the preparation of cases for preliminary motions and for cases in which clients have been charged under the art. 752 of the criminal code, except for drink-driving offences. “We will no longer only be paid for the fixed price, but also for the preparation, explained Boulet. “In the past, we had to ask for so-called special considerations at the end of the case, which we never knew if it would be granted. From now on, we will be entitled to a preparation period which depends on the duration of the Crown’s evidence when the case goes to trial. And in the cases where we plead guilty and have an agreement, the tariffs have been increased by 30 to 40% — these are significant increases. Obviously, the tariffs were outdated.
Under the agreement, a monitoring committee, made up of representatives of the Barreau du Québec, the Ministère de la Justice and the Commission des services juridiques (CSJ), will be set up to monitor the application of the new tariffs of the legal aid and any legislative changes that may be made following the adoption of the recommendations. “This is a major development because there were many other demands that were not addressed in the August 25 agreement, but which the committee will continue to review to determine what needs to be changed. and improve in the system,” said Ménard. “It is an implicit acknowledgment that despite the new agreement, it is insufficient and that we still need to consider more comprehensive reform.”
Also taking into account the experts’ recommendations, the Barreau du Québec has transformed the entity that will negotiate legal aid tariffs, Claveau said. The new committee, currently being formed, will be made up of 22 members, including a representative from each section of the Bar and members from the private sector working in administrative, criminal, family and immigration law, explained Claveau.
“This new committee will have greater independence and ensure better representation of lawyers in private practice,” said Claveau. “I wanted regional representation, representatives of major associations and people who work in the field because they are best placed to see if the proposals are satisfactory or not.
Boulet and Ménard see this change in a positive light.