Kevin Carroll is a former member of the Royal Canadian Artillery Association who articled in the Office of the Judge Advocate General. As incoming president of the Canadian Bar Association, he hopes to continue to fight the good fight on access to justice, fair trials, and building membership. Canadian Lawyer spoke with Carroll recently at the Barrie, Ont. offices of Carroll Heyd Chown. click here to view video
What are your priorities, and what do you see as the priorities for the CBA?
The emphasis is going to be on strategic development for our members. We do that through in-person [continuing legal education] as well as online, which members are now finding to be very convenient. The second is the advocacy we do on behalf of members with the federal government. For example, recently we have had some success in negotiating with the government for EI for self-employed lawyers, and particularly for women who are on [maternity] leave.
One issue that could affect the cost of legal fees is the harmonization of sales taxes in Canada. What is the CBA’s view?
We are already experiencing that in B.C. and in Manitoba. Certainly it will have an impact on the cost to the client. For example, we mounted a challenge in B.C. to have no tax on services provided through legal aid. It makes very little sense for the government to give with the one hand, in funding that they do for legal aid, and take away by some form of tax on that kind of service. . . . In Ontario there is certainly going to be an HST. . . . Hopefully we can have an effective lobby through our branch at the Ontario Bar Association to advise the government to not start having a tax on legal services.
What is the bar association doing to tackle the issue of legal aid funding?
The Criminal Lawyers’ Association [in Ontario] has already made it very clear that they are going to pull services completely or be selective about the services they provide. Quite frankly I doubt that they will go on strike because they are really much more responsible than that, but I have to say that legal aid has not kept pace with costs. Recently, the CBA has met with the federal justice minister to advocate to some contribution for civil legal aid. . . . In criminal matters, the cost for example, the hourly rate, I know Crown attorneys don’t charge an hourly rate, but if you equated their salary with an hourly rate it would be more than double what a criminal defence lawyer would be paid. That is in order to manage not only a middling case, but also serious cases. They are woefully inadequately compensated.
The government has to take a closer look at this, a much more analytical look to understand, particularly in recessionary times, legal aid funding is a very, very serious issue. The Canadian Bar Association focuses on having a sustainable legal aid system, I think governments are working on this. The goal should be sustainability.
What is the CBA doing in regards to report of jury tampering in Ontario and British Columbia?
Anytime there is an imbalance in the criminal justice system the Canadian Bar Association will take an interest in it. . . . Where access to justice, or the justice system, or the rule of law is impacted negatively then that is in the forefront for us.
To date we’ve only had reports of some of this going on in the province of Ontario and in B.C. Perhaps there are few cases, but from what I understand, from the comments from the Criminal Lawyers’ Association executive, it is more widespread. That creates an imbalance. What will be frightening, and this word may take on a national perspective, is if this is something that we see in more than two provinces then there will be a huge cost to the system. Because applications will be brought to perhaps overturn convictions that might otherwise not have occurred if the playing field were balanced.
What about involving the federal privacy commissioner?
That is the province of the privacy commissioner and CBA has been involved recently in the development of new regulations under the privacy legislation nationally. We continue to have discussions with the privacy commissioner and the Justice Department on those issues of the day. . . . For balance sake we know that anybody who has a criminal conviction for an indictable offence is disentitled to serve on a jury. I think it is appropriate that the Crown authority make that determination in order to not slow up the jury system or to have a juror inadvertently sitting when he or she should not be.
Any final thoughts?
I want to continue to provide the programs we are doing internationally where as a bar association in Canada we have a good deal to offer. We run programs in 29 countries around the world including Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and China, mostly in assisting in a co-partnering with local people. For example, in Bangladesh we helped to set up a legal aid program and an access to justice program.