Costly trial of Wills leads to new rules

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

A controversy over the cost of the publicly funded criminal defence of Richard Wills has led to new rules for overseeing these rare cases.

The announcement yesterday by Ontario Attorney-General Chris Bentley and Legal Aid Ontario comes seven weeks after lawyers for The Globe and Mail won the public release of information about Mr. Wills's defence. Ontario taxpayers paid defence lawyers $804,310.92 before the trial even began on June 14, with the final tally expected to exceed $1-million.

Mr. Wills was convicted on Oct. 31 of murdering his lover. A former Toronto police officer, he dragged the process through the courts for more than five years, hiring and firing a string of lawyers, berating people in the courtroom - including the trial judge - with a slew of obscenities, transferring considerable assets to his wife to avoid paying his own legal costs, and engaging in antics as outrageous as defecating in the prisoner's box.

The bill for Mr. Wills's defence ended up with the province through a "Fisher order" issued by Mr. Justice Bryan Shaughnessy of Ontario Superior Court in 2005. He ruled that the case would be "untriable" if Mr. Wills did not have top-flight legal representation. Unlike ordinary legal aid, a Fisher order allows an accused the right to hire a specific lawyer and allows a court to establish the lawyer's rates and dictate to the government what it will pay.

Judge Shaughnessy asked Legal Aid Ontario to oversee spending on the case because the Ministry of the Attorney General, which was paying the fees, is responsible for prosecution and could not be privy to defence counsel accounts.

Legal Aid later informed Mr. Wills's lawyer, Raj Napal, that it was not "case managing" the bills, but only "reviewing the math," much to Judge Shaughnessy's dismay.

The new protocol solidifies oversight of funds while seeking consistency in defence counsel fees, and stipulates that, wherever possible, the ministry and Legal Aid appear in court together for public funding applications. The ministry also reserves the right to appoint an independent third party to monitor invoices.