Legal Aid Tightens Restrictions On Lawyers Taking On Refugee Cases

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The organization Legal Aid Ontario is clamping down on rules about which lawyers are allowed to take refugee cases. Over the past four years, claims have been made that there are a vast number of Hungarian Roma refugees who were supposedly being represented, but were left to their own device after the lawyers were paid for services they never rendered.

Senior Legal Counselor Andrew Brouwer with Legal Aid, says that going forward, lawyers who want to represent refugees through the Legal Aid Organization will have to be authorized to handle the cases effectively. They will also have to have a command of refugee law. Passing a competency test, every local accident attorney wishing to represent them will have to be subjected to some standards of practice.

Those rules should seem to almost everyone a no-brainer. They involve having to spend time with clients, hiring a translator, preparing refugees to ensure that they can aid in their own defense and being able to tell the whole story of their plight from start to finish.

It also involves following through with all the legal documents needed and filing the evidence that has been uncovered. In essence, the standards are that you provide the client with the defense they need to defend themselves.

With more standards in place, it will make it easier to vet individually each lawyer and ensure that they can effectively do the job they are hired for and that they take payment for. For the first time, there will be checks and balances in place to watch over the entire process.

The lawyers representing Hungarian refugees in the future will have to demonstrate their abilities through audits. For those lawyers who intend to follow the process from beginning to end, there will be a separate proficiency accreditation to deal with filing appeals.

Why the need for the new regulations?

There are thousands of complaints that have gone unanswered. Other organizations in Canadian law are excited that there will be a new standard of practice to protect refugees against being taken advantage of. There is regret that it has taken so long to protect those refugees who were much in need of being sheltered from the malpractice perpetuated on them.

The complaints against Legal Aid is not a new thing. Brought to the attention of the organization by a group called Roma Community Centre or RCC over four years ago, it has taken them this long, and thousands more complaints, to address the problem and to commit to making a change. Over those four years, every one of the Roma refugees has been deported without representation.

Complaints coming from all directions, the Law Society of Upper Canada, which regulates the lawyers association for Ontario, contacted the organization to make them aware that there were complaints over three years ago as well.

All the while, poor refugees were being left without any representation and returned to the country they fought so hard to escape. When asked why it took Legal Aid so long to intervene, the Law Society responsible for public ethics simply has replied, “No comment”.

Viktor Hohots, one lawyer handling Roma cases has already admitted misconduct and was sentenced to time in prison. It is likely that many others are soon to follow. In shocking reports, it is estimated that of the 11,000 refugees who tried to claim refugee status, only 8.6% were accepted.

The others were denied due to lack of, or poor, representation. That is leaving many wondering if the maltreatment of refugees is something more ominous than just a few rogue lawyers. There is speculation that there is more of an institutional bias at play.

For now, there is hope that those who were denied refugee status due to poor representation will be allowed to try again with the right counsel to help. The problem is that there are many on the other side insisting that refugee status for Hungary Roma citizens is nothing but a scam. Many insist it is a way to come to Canada to take advantage of the welfare system.

What is clear is that with so many being displaced around the world, Canada better start getting its act together to decide more standardization in representation and who they are and are not going to accept. If there isn’t some uniformity, it is going to continue to look more intentional than misshapen legalize.

March 8, 2016 · Tim Kevan · Comments Closed
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