Legal Aid’s New Guilty Plea System

November 5, 2021
In an attempt to clear the high number of cases currently awaiting trial in the Ontario Courts, the government has created a new guilty plea certificate system that incentivizes those accused to plead guilty by providing legal representation for a guilty plea.  In this post, we’ll take a look at this new certificate system and discuss the severe moral and professional issues of the program. 

What Is Judge-Led Intensive Case Management Court (JICMC)?

COVID-19 closures have resulted in a huge backlog reaching into the tens of thousands of cases awaiting trial in the Ontario Court of Justice. To help address this, the court has created a new way of managing cases called the Judge-led Intensive Case Management Court or JICMC. This system focuses on accused people who do not have legal representation and allows them to quickly qualify for legal assistance without income testing. 

According to Legal Aid Ontario, the program entitles clients “to legal representation leading to either: a resolution of the matter (withdrawal of charges, diversion, peace bond, or plea)
OR setting the matter for trial (including representation at a judicial pre-trial on trial issues but excluding representation at trial)” The certificate pays a block rate of $1,055 with is ineligible for any additional authorizations, discretion or change of solicitor requests.

Professional And Moral Issues with the New Guilty Plea System

There are many legal and professional issues with this new guilty plea certificate program. According to the Criminal Lawyers Association, “this new certificate will create a coercive dynamic that incentivizes an accused to plead guilty by only offering legal representation on guilty pleas.” It takes advantage of those who are unable to afford their own legal counsel and undermines the professional integrity of the legal counsel accepting the certificates. 

Many criminal lawyers are refusing to accept these certificates on moral and professional grounds. The Criminal Lawyers’ Association (CLA) is strongly urging its members to refuse the guilty plea certificate “out of concern for our members’ own professional liability, civil liability, and for ethical reasons.” 

The JICMC Certificate System puts lawyers and their clients in a difficult situation as most clients who wanted to plead guilty would have already done so at a previous stage. These certificates do not provide a way for those accused to plead not-guilty with legal counsel. 

The program also undermines many vulnerable people facing criminal charges as the lawyer representing them through these certificates is only there for the judicial pretrial and will not represent them at trial. It opens up claims against their legal counsel for coerced guilty pleas or ineffective assistance of counsel. 

Draining The Legal Aid Fund

Another criticism of the program is that the certificates are offered to every accused person regardless of their financial position. This subsidizes those who can afford to pay for their own lawyer and depletes the very few resources available in Legal Aid that are desperately needed by vulnerable people who cannot afford a lawyer. 

It is clear that the backlog of cases awaiting trial in Ontario is a concerning issue, but creating a system that undermines vulnerable accused people and jeopardizes the careers and reputations of defence lawyers who try to defend them is not the answer. 

If you or a family member is facing criminal charges in Toronto you need the expertise of an experienced lawyer who will put your interests first. William Jaksa has over a decade of experience as a criminal lawyer and can help you get the best result for your case. Call Willam Jaksa today for a consultation. 

 

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