Moncton-based lawyer Anne Horsman once found herself defending a single mother of two who had been charged with writing four NSF cheques. The woman admitted to the offence—but said she had done so in order to buy groceries for her family In court, Horsman mounted what even she admits was a far-fetched defence. She brought in economists and nutritionists who i testified that the amount of social assistance her client received made it impossible to feed her family and meet the basic requirements of the Canada Food Guide. Invoking what is known as a defence of necessity, she argued that her client had little choice but to write the bad cheques. In the end, the client was found guilty. But she was also discharged and spared a jail sentence. “The courts are not the place to change social policy,” says Horsman, 48. “But sometimes they are the only thing left.” And although not all her cases involve the poor, Horsman (University of Moncton, class of ’89) has gained a reputation for defending women of little means, many of whom are fighting welfare fraud charges. Horsman, who admits that anger is often a motivating force for her, realizes she won’t change the world. “I just want the playing field to be a little more even,” she says.
A desire to defend the underdog is also what drives Lee Mitchell, a 1993 graduate of Osgoode Hall. After a year in private practice, Mitchell, 35, joined a Toronto-based legal aid clinic called Justice for Children and Youth. Among Mitchell’s clients are teenagers charged under the Young Offenders Act and youth seeking financial support from parents who have kicked them out of the house.
Mitchell is well aware of the widespread perception that young offenders are treated too leniently by the justice system. But he contends that such views are based on false assumptions about the growing level of youth crime—and a general lack of human empathy for young people in desperate straits. “Many have been rejected or abused by their parents,” says Mitchell. “They may act tough, put on bravado, but it can be a very scary situation.” And while he knows that he could be practising a more lucrative brand of law, Mitchell says he derives immense satisfaction from his work. “It’s a very human kind of law, one that deals with individuals who have no one else on their side,” says the lawyer. “It matters to me when I win or lose a case because I really do care about the client.”
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