Legal Aid assesses impact of cuts

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Barb Sweet
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Nick Avis. — Telegram file photo

Legal Aid in Newfoundland and Labrador is losing five lawyers and possibly three more, according to the commission’s chairman Nick Avis.

The commission is unclear whether three vacancies it has can be filled, but five others are gone for sure.

The commission’s budget has been cut by $1.5 million, but Avis pointed out there is $500,000 worth of increased operating expenses, including rent on two of the office spaces, that were not funded.

So in effect, he said the budget shortfall is $2 million.

Offices are rented through the public tender act.

”It’s not like we are picking deluxe accommodations,” Avis said.

As for the impact of cutting lawyers, he said staff will not be asked to drop their ethical obligations to meet certain standards.

“What we will see here is more delays,” he said.

He said because of other cuts, there will be delays in processing legal aid applications, delays in appeals of those applications and delays the courts.

A lawyer might be assigned a case, but it will be  matter of when they can get to it.

He said the cuts will seriously impair the commission’s ability to deliver its services and with the increased funding in recent years, legal aid funding had not quite gotten where it should be.

The commission has 54 lawyers around the province and a total of 133 employees in all.

There are no human resources staff and a report the commission had done identified it should have a human resources staff of at least three people, Avis said.

The commission has asked government to reconsider the budget reduction, but Avis said he’s not especially hopeful.

He said his personal opinion is that the justice system is an easy target and often the hardest hit in times of restraint.

“The public doesn’t really understand what we do,” Avis said.

The commission had recommended to government it could save $550,000 by doing away with the choice of counsel in serious cases, such as murder. That money is fees to private lawyers chosen by accused.

However, the commission it can’t cut choice of counsel.

But still it’s being asked to absorb a $430,000 cut in professional services without cutting that program.

Avis said the villain in the whole debacle is the federal government, which has reduced funding to legal aid from 90 per cent in the 1970s  to 15-20 per cent now.

Every year provincial justice ministers have met and sought federal support for legal aid.

Avis said when Tom Marshall was minister of justice, he made a special effort to advocate for legal aid federally, but it fell on deaf ears.

As for the suspension of legal aid lawyer Ray Kuszelewski, the area director for Gander, who spoke to CBC News Tuesday about justice cuts,  Avis said there is a policy that the only person allowed to speak to the media is the chairman.

Avis said there had been a previous incident in which the lawyer spoke on behalf of the commission, the suspension is a matter of days, he has apologized and the matter will be revisited next week.

Organizations: Avis said.The commission, CBC News

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

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  • EDfromRED
    April 06, 2013 - 10:14

    No wonder our Justice system is so messed up. The Legal Aid Commission acts out maliciously when someone uses free speech!? Maybe the PC's and their stooges should publish what opinions the public are allowed to have. No wonder so many people think something stinks to high heaven with Muskrat Falls, when one mans opinion is treated with an obscene amount of reprisal. I think after the PC's are defeated next election we are going to need an inquiry to investigate what dirty laundry Bill C-29 was introduced to hide.

  • as it happens
    April 06, 2013 - 06:50

    Did. Mr. Avis have permission from Mr. Kuszelewski to reveal his personal information regarding employment history ? Surely, Mr Avis is aware that he cannot release personal information without consent? I wonder if Mr. Kuszelewski will file a complaint to with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner? One would hope that Mr. Kuszelewski is not penalized too greatly for making the mistake of speaking the truth, the same truth that Mr. Avis waited so patiently to reveal.

  • ray kuszelewski
    April 05, 2013 - 19:14

    so, Avis said, what I said. i get suspended and Avis only said it because I said it first! to date, they can have an emergency meeting to suspend me, but after 10 days they still haven't met regarding the budget........and he reiterates. my comments today....go figure!