ACCLE and Bill C-75: Implications for Student Legal Clinics & Communities in Canada

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Publication Date


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Journal of Law and Social Policy



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legal clinics; criminal law; law reform; bill c-75

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In the spring OF 2018, the federal Liberal government introduced Bill C-75,an omnibus criminal law reform Bill that proposed significant changes to the Criminal Code,including reforms impacting law student representation of accused persons facing criminal charges.2Included in the Bill was an amendment to section 787(1)to increase the maximum penalty for all summary conviction offences from six months of incarceration to two years less a day.3However, there was no corollary amendment proposed to section802.1 of the Code, the section that allowed non-lawyers to represent accused persons as long as the maximum penalty did not exceed six months of incarceration(unless a provincial Order in Council authorized appearances on matters where greater penalties were possible).4As such, agents, including law students, would not be able to represent persons accused of criminal offences—unless the provinces were to enact Orders in Council allowing them to do so—as there would no longer be any Criminal Code offences containing a penalty of less than six months.The gap in legal representation that this change would create threatened to deepen the access to justice crisis for already marginalized clients and impact the education of law students at student legal clinics across Canada. Due to the urgency of the varied impacts of Bill C-75, the Association of Canadian Clinical Legal Education (ACCLE) responded by providing written submissions to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and by sending a representative to Ottawa to make submissions before the Committee. Notwithstanding the compelling arguments of ACCLE and other organizations, these provisions of Bill C-75 were passed and have now taken effect.While ultimately unsuccessful in its efforts to forestall these Criminal Code reforms, as ACCLE discovered in responding to Bill C-75, removing student appearance rights has provided an opportunity to reflect on the important role student legal clinics have come to play both in providing meaningful representation and in educating law students. In what follows, we outline ACCLE’s contribution in responding collectively to Bill C-75 and expand on portions of our submission that were truncated due to page limits. We review the changes to section787(1) and the implications for clients of legal clinics. We also provide an overview of legal clinics in Canada that will assist in understanding ACCLE and ACCLE’s role in responding to Bill C-75. A review of the current landscape of law student representation of clients facing summary conviction offences will then be presented.Finally, avenues for further advocacy will be suggested. We then reproduce the submission made by ACCLE to the Standing Committee in its entirety.It is our hope that ACCLE’s involvementin responding to Bill C-75 generates renewed interest in the role oflegal clinicsin advocating for access to justiceand the importance of ensuring ongoing student representation of persons accused of criminal offences.