Facing strong opposition to planned cuts for Legal Aid Ontario, Doug Downey Ontario’s attorney general said he would backtrack on some planned cuts to legal aid as he unveiled a suite of changes to the justice system earlier this week.
The province’s Progressive Conservative government had announced in its 2019 budget that it would slash $164 million in funding — almost half of Legal Aid Ontario’s 2018 provincial funding — over the next three years.
The $133-million cut made this year will stay in place but a planned $31-million in additional cuts won’t go ahead, government officials told HuffPost Canada.
Downey said, “We decided that we’re at a level where it’s sustainable and it’s efficient and there’s opportunity to expand service with current funding.”
He had just introduced an 84-page bill that makes changes to 20 existing laws, including the Legal Aid Services Act.
The reforms will give Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) more control over how it provides services, Downey said.
LAO provides legal services for people who can’t afford a lawyer. A single person has to earn less than $22,700 to qualify for its services. Legal clinics that support injured workers and workers fighting unjust firings have already laid off staff because of the cuts made so far this year.
Changes to the law will end a legal requirement for LAO to provide services in criminal law, family law, clinic law and mental health law.
Under the current rules, LAO can’t refer a client to a lawyer who will accept their legal aid certificate, Charles Harnick said. That will change when the new rules are passed and make things easier for clients, he said.
The government said Downey’s bill, the Smarter and Stronger Justice Act, would give LAO more power over the services it offers, make it easier for victims to sue people who share intimate images without consent, simplify the rules for administering small estates and increase fines for lawyers and paralegals who engage in misconduct. -CINEWS