In recent weeks, the Quebec government settled acrimonious labour disputes that threatened to spill over during the election. The provincial government, faced with the prospect of large swaths of legal actors interrupting electoral efforts with unsightly placards during the campaign, quietly reached an agreement with private sector lawyers who take on legal aid mandates, and more recently with government lawyers and notaries.
An independent panel of experts is recommending sweeping reforms to Quebec’s administration of the legal aid system to simplify the process to seek legal aid and alleviate the administrative encumbrances faced by private sector lawyers who take on legal aid mandates.
The experts, while affirming Quebec’s decentralized legal aid model because it ensures the independence of staff counsel and “respects” regional diversity, are nevertheless calling for a “paradigm” shift that would be anchored by the introduction of a secure digital platform to help establish a province-wide one-stop shop to receive, process and manage legal aid applications.
After three years of negotiations, the Quebec government and the provincial bar association reached an agreement to raise legal fees and to establish an independent working group that will conduct an exhaustive review of the tariff structure.
The agreement, widely perceived to be a “step in the right direction” by the Quebec legal community, calls for a five per cent retroactive increase in legal aid fees for the period of October 2017 to May 2019, and a 14.7 per cent increase in fees from June 2019 to September 2022.
The surging number of unrepresented litigants trying to navigate the complex demands of law and procedure may leave legislators with little choice but to review and enact simplified rules of practice to make justice more accessible, said the chief justice of Quebec’s Superior Court at a conference examining the disturbing trend.
The figures are alarming, with an average of 37 per cent of parties representing themselves in civil matters before Quebec Superior Court, revealed Judge François Rolland. In divorce cases before Quebec Superior Court, 36 per cent of Quebecers are unrepresented litigants, a figure that rises to 42.1 per cent in family matters dealing with child custody and separation. Almost 42 per cent of parties appealing a sentence in criminal matters before Quebec Superior Court are unrepresented litigants while 38.8 per cent of individuals facing a motion that could authorize their psychiatric treatment do not have legal representation, prompting Justice Rolland to remark that if anybody “should be represented it seems to me it’s the treatment cases.” Continue reading “Growing trend of unrepresented litigants is disturbing, says judge”
A call by the Barreau du Québec to broaden access to legal aid by relaxing financial eligibility thresholds was quickly dismissed by Quebec Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier who declared that the provincial government can’t afford to inject more monies into the province’s government-funded legal aid program.
Three years after Guy Pratte and Alexander De Zordo convened a meeting with the managing partners of Montreal’s top law firms and the chief justices of Quebec courts to discuss the necessity of adopting a pragmatic approach towards pro bono, the Barreau du Québec finally forged ahead and recently announced the creation of a new not-for-profit organization, making Quebec the fifth jurisdiction in Canada to adopt a coordinated approach to pro bono service delivery.
“We got the ball rolling,” De Zordo said humbly, a partner and regional chair of the Borden Ladner Gervais Pro Bono Committee in Montreal and member of the provisional board of directors of the new entity. “We found that the attribution of pro bono work was not as well structured in Quebec as in the other provinces. Everyone was in agreement.”