I’m involved in a case that got me thinking about a simple question: Who pays to ensure the poor receive justice in our community?
I represent a man who suffers from the affliction of mental illness. To compound his problems, many years ago he was the victim of unspeakable abuse which caused him deep emotional scars. Being a poor immigrant without the support of a family or real friends, he received little help dealing with his issues. He turned to alcohol and street drugs in a futile attempt to dull the painful memories of the past.
A number of weeks ago he was arrested over a minor fight. It’s still unclear who started it and who was at fault, but no one was hurt. Nonetheless, the Crown was opposed to releasing him on bail. They would have preferred he stay locked up at the ever dangerous and decrepit Don Jail. Without bail, he would be waiting in a squalid jail cell for a good six months awaiting his trial. Even if convicted, the offence does not warrant a jail sentence.
At the beginning of the bail hearing, the Court made it clear that it would consider granting a bail, but only if its legitimate concerns about his being released were addressed. Doing so required us to put together a plan for his release that involved mental health professionals, social workers, and community housing. In total, this required working with and coordinating six separate community service agencies. Nothing short of such a plan would have succeeded in securing his release; and his release is what justice demanded.
I’m glad to report that after a bail hearing that required us to attend on four separate days, and invest 22 hours of our time to put arrange the community resources the Justice insisted needed to be in place, he was eventually released.
So what was the price of this small act of justice – his release on bail?
As a taxpayer, our success in securing his release on bail was actually a great money-saver. Keeping him in jail would have been a good $20,000 dollars more expensive than the cost of his release.
To the legal aid plan, the bail hearing was an unbelievable bargain – they will cover no more than two hours of our time for a grand total of about $190.
So who really paid the price of justice in this matter? The firm of Derstine Penman.