Tag Archives: Legal Aid

Legal aid cuts in England, student clinics and women’s justice

A conversation with colleagues the other night prompted me to go looking for some of the newspaper stories about legal aid cuts in England & Wales, impact on family law in particular and the use of students to help unrepresented litigants.
Hastily put together, but if you are interested, the links below might help.

Restricting Legal Clinic Services to Exclude men accused of Domestic Violence: Windsor edition

Here’s the Community Legal Aid (Windsor Law student/Legal Aid Ontario funded) Clinic policy that has been provoking “outrage” from the defence bar and others including at least one faculty member.

“We’re very alarmed about this,” said Frank Miller, who heads the Windsor chapter of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association.

According to Miller, the policy flies in the face of some of the basic tenets of the justice system: presumption of innocence and the right to legal representation.

“The university prides itself on access-to-justice issues, and yet they’re acting in this manner,” Miller said Tuesday.

He described the policy as “generously giving assistance to women in that situation, and denying it to men.”

Asked if he feels there’s a political agenda behind the policy, Miller replied: “I can only speculate. It speaks for itself, I suppose, when one reads what they’ve decided to do.”

Miller said local members of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association plan on meeting Friday to discuss the issue further. “We want to find out what’s driving this.”  Source: http://blogs.windsorstar.com/2012/09/25/sexism-female-favoured-policy-change-at-community-legal-aid-stirs-outrage/

and the twitter-sphere:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/EmirCrowne/status/250778789091606529″]

This is not a new issue for Ontario law schools and clinics (as many commentators have pointed out, similar policies exist at a number of law school clinics – both Osgoode clinics, CLASP and PCLS have policies which date back to the 1980’s).  It is interesting to compare the reaction in Windsor to the one described in Jennie Abell’s 1992 article chronicling the implementation of a similar policy at Ottawa in 1990. Jennie Abell 17 Queen’s L.J. 147 (1992) Women, Violence, & the Criminal Law: It’s the Fundamentals of Being a Lawyer That Are at Stake Here (which unfortunately does not appear to be available open source).  Abell wrote:

…the significant philosophical and political aspects to the issues and the merits of the arguments were marginalized rather than explored. Instead of a “debate”, what emerged was a contest about power and control of the legal profession. and a focus on process rather than the substantive issues and the problematic nature of the underlying assumptions. [at 148]

[this article also covers the issue: Mossman 1994 Gender Equality, Family Law, & Access to Justice.’ Int J L Pol’y & Fam 8: 357 bit.ly/TB41ut

Prof Mossman has suggested I look for the report of the  L.S.U.C. Special Committee to Investigate Complaints against the University of Ottawa Student Legal Aid Society convened on this – if anyone has it in e-form, I would like to be able to post it – let me know!

 

Here is a bit from the Windsor policy document:

In the past several months, a working group composed of CLA, LAW, and Windsor Law School representatives has been meeting to discuss various policy and pedagogical issues related to our clinical law programs.

One of the many issues addressed has been the policies and protocols that ought to be in place regarding domestic violence cases including peace bond cases.

Guiding these discussions was a commitment to ensuring adequate supervision and training of clinic students, a commitment to ensuring that our casework advances the cause of justice and a commitment to improving the student clinical experience.

In the course of its extensive discussions, the working group considered expert opinions and key reports that have addressed this issue, including work that has been done on developing appropriate screening tools for cases involving domestic violence.  The group also conducted a survey of law school clinics across Canada. This survey revealed that there are many other clinics that do not handle domestic violence or peace bond cases.

More on this, I am sure, to come.  These decisions aren’t easy and they require commitment- and it isn’t a burden to have to defend and justify them against questions and concerns about access to justice.   But it is tiring to see people (pretending to be) (being) shocked that there is a politics to service provision and legal aid and criminal justice, and/or making “reverse sexism” arguments as though they are clear debate enders.   I hope the media coverage takes some time to explore this one.  The comments of review counsel (see the Windsor Star article above) question the process, and I suppose that will have to be hashed out along with the substantive choice.