Constitutional challenge over legal aid fees rebuffed by court

A Montreal criminal lawyer behind a constitutional challenge of Quebec’s legal aid disbursements’ system and a motion to revamp the legal aid fee system lost his bid after Quebec Superior Court held that it was a political matter.

In a long-awaited decision by the Quebec legal community, with several high-profile criminal defense lawyer’s associations as well as the Quebec Bar joining in the effort, Superior Court Justice Manon Lavoie held that while the issue deserved attention it was an administrative issue that had nothing to do with the constitutional rights of the litigant who raised the matter.

“Considering the effort and energy that was put into this case for the past two years, the result for us was catastrophic,” said Félix-Antoine Doyon, a Montreal criminal lawyer who spearheaded the constitutional challenge. “We are absolutely and totally convinced that the current legal aid system is flawed. We are convinced that several fundamental rights are breached by the current legal aid fee system. At least the judge recognized the seriousness of the question,” added Doyon, who intends to file an application for leave to appeal before the Quebec Court of Appeal.

Doug Mitchell, a Montreal litigator and constitutional law expert who represented three Quebec criminal defense lawyer’s organizations who sought to be interveners, believes the decision is inconsistent with the current state of law. “The judge reduced it to simple financial expenditures, which is a complete misreading of the statement of claim,” said Mitchell, who co-founded IMK LLP in 1997. “The statement of claim says that the current regime results in a denial of several fundamental Charter rights and that it is setting up a system where either the lawyers are not incentivized to do a reasonably decent job or the people who are doing it are not going to be competent in criminal files with some degree of complexity.”

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This story was originally published in The Lawyer’s Daily.

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