Public defenders to be hired in Ontario

Public defenders may start working in Ontario

Ontario's troubled legal aid system may soon be revamped to include public defenders.

Attorney General David Young is introducing a bill to give Legal Aid Ontario the power to hire salaried staff to act on behalf of those who can't afford lawyers.

Currently, private-practice defence lawyers who take on legal aid cases are paid through the organization.

The new legislation comes in the midst of a longstanding battle between the government and lawyers across the province.

For years, lawyers have complained they don't make enough money from legal aid cases.

In protest, many lawyers stopped accepting legal aid cases and have staged boycotts at courthouses across Ontario.

In July, the government increased legal aid rates to $88 per hour, the first hike in 15 years.

But lawyers wanted an increase to $100 per hour.

Young said the legal aid system doesn't exist simply for the benefit of lawyers. He said he won't allow lawyers' protests to deny people representation.

"I'm not prepared to have the system held hostage in order to have the tariff rate increased," Young said.