The Society’s Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) Local made a 22-page submission as part of its participation in a consultation on modernization reforms to the legal aid system.
Run by Legal Aid Ontario on behalf of the Ministry of the Attorney General, the consultation process began after the provincial government imposed a 30% cut to Legal Aid Ontario’s budget that has created havoc in Ontario courts. The LAO Local’s submissions began with a call to reverse the $133 million cut.
While it was beyond the scope of this consultation, the LAO Local highlighted the need to look at modernization of Ontario’s justice system as a whole, including the courts, rather than a myopic approach that looks at legal aid independently. The Local points at the LAO could save significant sums of money with modernized court processes for things like court appearances that are presently much more labour-intensive than necessary.
Within the scope of the consultation, the LAO Local called for a more representative agency board of directors that includes more people who have actually practiced as LAO staff lawyers and therefore truly understand the work of the organization. The Local also advocated for improved client service through a central phone number, greater clarity of roles within the organization to ensure accurate and effective client referrals, and improved collaboration between frontline staff lawyers and decision-makers at the top. The key recommendation for improved internal efficiency was to flatting the organizational structure by removing superfluous layers of middle management.
The LAO Local strongly advocated for any savings to be reinvested into legal aid services by increasing the maximum income threshold for receiving services. The maximum income someone can earn while remaining eligible for legal aid services is presently well below the poverty line in most cases.