The April 28th letter to Anthony Laycock, Executive Director of the Criminal Lawyers Association, questioned the lack of response from the legal profession to conditions in Ontario’s jails. Not only are inmates awaiting trial and the lawyers who represent them placed at a disadvantage, but administrative, procedural, legal, and human rights irregularities and violations affect the entire provincial penal system population, and bring the justice system we are to respect into disrepute. This letter was published as part of the May 15 “Where are the angry lawyers?” There’s been no response, and one is not expected.
The same question went to a busy, highly qualified, and well thought-of associate in a Toronto criminal law firm. Edited for privacy/confidentiality, the email answer began, “….I don’t want you to think that we do not care about the issues at CSC”….(meaning the provincial Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services, or CSCS). It goes on, “They are very real and live concerns, but unfortunately, fall outside my mandate. I am a defence lawyer. I represent….on criminal related matters………your frustration with the system is shared, but in order to attack it, there needs to be someone with that as their primary function. Unfortunately, the world has too many problems for one person to tackle on their own.”
Also understandable, this part of our question was not addressed, “If criminal lawyers and their firms are too busy to confront problems within CSCS which exacerbate the challenges of providing the best service possible to their in-custody clients, why then are assets not put in place to exercise the beneficial options available?”
Improved client/lawyer communication and case preparation, and a potential profit centre are reasons enough to act. Alone or collectively, criminal law firms simply enlist civil/human rights litigators to take our provincial government to task for redress of complaints, and petition for financial compensation. If our public institutions won’t respond to the scrutiny and criticisms of the media and citizens’ groups, the professionals who are a daily witness earn the right to benefit.
Why hasn’t this materialized? Why has the work been left to the grassroots, to the little guys? One hypothesis suggests those in the best position to do the most good are reluctant to risk being scratched off the government’s Christmas card list.
So then, where does this leave our allegiance?