The lawyers representing two Pelly Crossing sisters argued Sept. 11 that one hundred hours of work is simply not enough for any lawyer to mount a proper defence in a murder case. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)

Lawyers make arguments over ‘inadequate’ legal aid funding for Yukon murder case

The preliminary inquiry alone is scheduled to last for two weeks

A hundred hours of work is simply not enough for any lawyer to mount a proper defence in a murder case.

That was the crux of the argument lawyers representing two Pelly Crossing sisters made before a judge in Whitehorse on Sept. 11.

The sisters, Lynzee and Charabelle Silverfox, are each facing a charge of first-degree murder in relation to the December 2017 slaying of Derek Edwards. They’ve brought forward an application seeking a stay in proceedings unless they receive state funding for their defences.

While both sisters qualified for legal aid, the Yukon Legal Services Society (YLSS) offered their lawyers Jennifer Budgell and Jennifer Cunningham, respectively, funding for only 100 hours of work.

The offer stated there would be room to negotiate for more time, but under cross-examination in July, then-YLSS executive director David Christie said budget restrictions would prevent him from approving anything more.

In her submissions Sept. 11, Cunningham told deputy Yukon Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Hughes, who presided over the hearing via video link, that 100 hours for a homicide case, from start to finish, was “grossly inadequate.”

Both Cunningham and Budgell stressed that it wasn’t a matter of them personally being unable to do the entire case in 100 hours, but a matter no competent lawyer being able to unless they either “cut corners” or did a large amount of work for free.

“The applicants are not trying to circumvent the system, so to speak, to have Ms. Cunningham and I appointed as counsel,” Budgell said.

“What they’re arguing is, this budget …. it doesn’t matter who comes on, this budget is not sufficient to provide a fair trial no matter who the lawyer is, and that’s what it really comes down to.”

Cunningham said the Silverfox sisters’ situation was “unique and different” from other legal aid situations because, in this case, the YLSS has given a “hard cap” on funding whereas typically, there’s room for lawyers to provide the society a budget and negotiate.

Budgell noted that there was “no hope” or indication that legal aid’s budget would change anytime soon in order to allow for more hours.

Questioned by Hughes, Cunningham and Budgell said they couldn’t say how many hours would be adequate for the case, but that they knew 100 wasn’t enough.

The preliminary inquiry alone, they noted, is scheduled to last for two weeks.

Crown attorney Ludovic Gouaillier, however, argued that the application was “premature” and that the Silverfox sisters should speak to some other lawyers to see if anyone else would be willing to take on their cases first.

He described a stay in proceedings as a “great hammer” when it comes to legal remedies and one that should only be granted in the “clearest of cases,” but argued that the current situation was “miles and miles and miles” from that.

The Silverfox sisters, he noted, weren’t denied legal aid assistance, which is typically the first step for the kind of application they had brought to the court.

Gouaillier argued that the YLSS having an adequate, or inadequate, budget and having access to a competent lawyer were two separate issues, and suggested that the situation wasn’t about fairness but dollars — the Silverfox sisters, he said, began working with Cunningham and Budgell at the outset, wanted to keep them on but were told they weren’t getting enough money.

He added that while other lawyers who work with YLSS might not want to take on the case, the sisters have to try first before turning to the courts for help.

“I see nothing exceptional about it,” he said of the situation, refuting Cunningham’s argument that it was “unique.”

Hughes is expected to deliver her decision later this month.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

Yukon courts

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, speaks to media at a press conference about COVID-19 in Whitehorse on March 30. The Yukon government announce the first COVID-19 related death in a press conference announcement Friday morning. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
UPDATED: Yukon announces first COVID-19-related death

The person was an older Watson Lake resident with underlying health conditions, officials said

Wyatt's World for Oct. 30.
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for Oct. 30

Health Minister Pauline Frost insists no one who shows up at the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter for dinner will go without a meal, despite no drop-in dinner service being offered starting on Nov. 1. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Non-profits concerned as Whitehorse Emergency Shelter ends drop-in dinner service

Minister Pauline Frost insists everyone who needs one ‘will be provided with a meal.’

Housing construction continues in the Whistle Bend subdivision in Whitehorse on Oct. 29. Affordability challenges is being described as being among the most pressing issues facing housing markets throughout the north in a report released Oct. 29 by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Home, rent prices increasing in Whitehorse, northern housing report says

Affordability continues to be a major challenge, report says

Premier Sandy Silver talks to media in Whitehorse on March 19. According to the premier, who is also the finance minister, the Yukon government ran a $2.6 million deficit in the 2019-2020 fiscal year, instead of the surplus it had originally predicted. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon government ran a $2.6 million deficit in 2019-2020

Deficit attributed to lower-than-expected revenue, higher expenses on health and social side

Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, speaks at a council and management roundtable discussion Sept. 26, 2019. During an Oct. 29 meeting, Constable highlighted a number of potential changes to the City of Whitehorse procedures bylaw. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Work on City of Whitehorse procedures bylaw continues

Officials will look at procedures for other municipalities

Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley at a COVID-19 press conference in Whitehorse on Aug. 26. Hanley said the source of the outbreak in Watson Lake may not ever be found, but contact tracing in the community continues. (Alistair Maitland Photography)
New Whitehorse COVID-19 case is unrelated to Watson Lake cluster, officials say

Chief medical officer of health says avoid indoor Halloween parties, monitor for symptoms

Joel Krahn/Yukon News file Whitehorse City Hall.
Whitehorse city council, briefly

Updates on matters before city council on Oct. 26

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
GoFundMe for Whitehorse boy hit by car on Range Road raises more than $62k in a day

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

A proposed Official Community Plan amendment would designate a 56.3 hectare piece of land in Whistle Bend currently designated as green space, as urban residential use. Whitehorse city council passed first reading on a bylaw for the designation change at its Oct. 26 meeting, prompting an upcoming public hearing on Nov. 23 ahead of second reading on Dec. 7. (Courtesy City of Whitehorse)
Local contractors will be given an advantage on a contract for the design and construction services that will see a new reception building at Robert Service Campground decided city councillors during the Oct. 26 council meeting. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local firms will get advantage on contract for new Robert Service Campground building

Yukon-based companies competing for contract for new reception building will receive 20 extra points

Fallen trees due to strong winds are seen leaning on to power lines which caused some power outages around the territory on Oct. 26. (Courtesy of ATCO)
Wind knocks out power around the Yukon

High winds on Oct. 26 knocked out power to Faro, parts of Whitehorse and beyond

The Yukon government is asking for all claims in a lawsuit over the Takhini elk herd be struck by the court. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Yukon government asks for Takhini elk lawsuit to be struck

The Yukon government is asking for all claims in a lawsuit over… Continue reading

Most Read