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Legal aid spending increase ends boycott Add to ...

Seven hundred Ontario defence lawyers ended their seven-month boycott of serious criminal cases in victory yesterday, wresting an increase of up to $80-million in legal aid funding from the province.

An 11th-hour agreement prevented the risk that the Criminal Lawyers Association would ratchet up its boycott. The seven-year deal calls for about $80-million to be added to Legal Aid Ontario's $200-million budget for services to indigent clients who qualify for legal aid certificates, according to the CLA.

The addition will restore about 75 per cent of the shortfall that legal aid lawyers say they have suffered due to inflation over the past 20 years.

"This is the largest, longest funding commitment to this social program the government has ever pledged," said CLA past president Frank Addario, who spearheaded the boycott.

However, Valerie Hopper, a spokeswoman for the Attorney-General's office, said the amount could be well under $80-million, depending on factors including demand and reallocation.

Attorney-General Chris Bentley said that the province will increase funding to the program by 5 per cent each year.

The CLA was on the verge of extending its boycott to a new tier of cases. It had so far been restricted to murder cases and those prosecuted under guns and gangs legislation.

The boycott was launched last June, after the Criminal Lawyers Association said that its membership was fed up after waiting 15 years for a meaningful hike in the legal aid fee structure.

Legal aid currently pays experienced counsel a top rate of approximately $98 an hour. In contrast, lawyers who work on contract for the province are paid $192 an hour. Criminal lawyers in private practice typically charge clients $300 to $400 an hour.

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