Court Site Study of Adult Unrepresented Accused in the Provincial Criminal Courts (Part 2: Site Reports)
Chapter 4: Brandon , Manitoba (continued)
Our key findings with respect to the key questions raised by the study include:
With respect to frequency of self-representation
- There are very few accused who proceed through key parts of the criminal court process in Brandon without the benefit of legal representation.
- This number is perhaps smaller than it would otherwise be as a result of the extended duty counsel system for legal aid, the court case management system in place, and other factors.
With respect to impact
- Interviews with key officials strongly suggest that unrepresented accused (especially those with little prior experience in the court system) are less likely to be aware of the legal remedies available to them at key stages in the process – and are unlikely to understand many key decisions and events in the process.
- The evidence is insufficient to conclude whether or not self-represented accused are more likely to be convicted or to receive harsher sentences.
- A significant number of unrepresented accused suffer serious penalties or deprivations of liberty as a result of their court case. Over 40 percent receive a criminal record and a smaller, but still significant number (almost 20 percent) receive custodial sentences.
As noted earlier, key informants were of the view that unrepresented accused were a rare phenomenon in Brandon, except at trial. Interviewees who were able to speculate on the subject agreed that the following were the key reasons for the infrequency of unrepresented accused in Brandon:
- Flexibility of the Legal Aid and duty counsel system to provide needed assistance without undue restrictions.
- Leadership by judges, Crowns and Legal Aid officials in ensuring that accused persons will have access to legal advice, especially at early stages in the criminal process.
- Extensive experience in criminal litigation among staff lawyers of the Legal Aid Plan in Brandon.
- Salary levels and benefits for staff lawyers of the Plan, which are adequate and roughly in line with Crown salaries.
- "Competition" for criminal case certificates between Legal Aid staff lawyers and members of the private bar.
- Staffing levels that are challenging, while allowing staff lawyers to spend enough time on cases.
- Pro bono work done by the private bar.
- Sound case management practices at the Brandon court, which keep backlogs and delays (and therefore the work required) to a minimum by promoting early, fair resolution of cases by the Crown and defence lawyers who will make decisions on them.
- Shared understandings about following sound case management principles, and their value to all parties.
- An atmosphere of mutual respect and co-operation.
- The time to review cases before court, made possible by all of the above.
It has been noted earlier that all key groups in the Brandon Court seem to support continuing efforts to improve the operations of their court. Given the steps already taken in the Brandon court, and the relatively low number of unrepresented accused in the court (compared to other sites in the study), those interviewed had difficulty identifying steps to be taken to improve the situation further – other than to suggest an increase in resources to continue similar policies and practices.
However, concerns were raised that the gains that had been made might be threatened by the possibility of the court losing certain key personnel – and the possibility that their positions might not be filled quickly.
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