Courageous public stance taken by prominent New Brunswick criminal defence lawyers
Of all the areas of public spending, perhaps the least capable of gaining public support and sympathy is funding for criminal defence work. We often hear people speak of the accused and say “they should just lock ‘em all up and throw away the key.” Criminal defence lawyers usually retort that that attitude would change should those people be falsely accused of a crime. In fact, false accusations and miscarriages of justice do occur, and more often than you would think. That is why we need competent and independent-minded lawyers prepared to defend anyone facing criminal charges. However, as things stand in New Brunswick today, those safeguards may be eroding.
Last Saturday’s Telegraph-Journal featured an article and op-ed piece describing dismay over public comments made by a government official regarding the objectives of New Brunswick’s criminal defence legal aid program.
The lawyers who were featured in the article are prominent criminal defence lawyers Brian Munroe and Gary Miller. Both are upset with comments made by the head of the NB Legal Aid Services Commission to the effect that the commission must become more efficient notably by giving the work to lawyers who have a disposition toward resolving matters sooner rather than later as opposed to lawyers who have an orientation towards litigation.
What is understood by that comment is that the Legal Aid Commission is looking for lawyers who resolve most often with guilty pleas rather than using every argument at their disposal to force the prosecution to prove its case.
As Munroe stated in the Telegraph-Journal, “If the focus becomes fast-tracking the process – for example, don’t elect a judge and jury trial because that costs too much or takes too long – you’re going to get wrongfully accused people becoming wrongfully convicted people.” “That’s what we try to avoid in this system.” Miller is quoted as saying “It’s a sorry situation when the whole agenda is for efficiency as opposed to justice.”
The commentary piece is authored by three Charlotte County lawyers and reminds New Brunswickers that lawyers engaged in legal aid work serve the poor and disaffected in our society or the person that finds themselves at the lowest point in their lives when facing a criminal charge. “We, as lawyers, should not be considering the economics of the commission when advising clients.”