TORONTO – Today, Legal Aid Ontario detailed how it will continue to implement Premier Doug Ford’s cruel and unprecedented 30% cut to Legal Aid, which was first announced in April’s provincial budget. Legal Aid Ontario Lawyers, represented by their union the Society of United Professionals, say the cuts will prevent vulnerable Ontarians from receiving access to justice, especially in bail courts.
“These cuts are going to create unbearable crises in Ontario’s courts if they are not halted immediately,” said Dana Fisher, spokesperson for the Legal Aid Ontario Lawyers’ Local of the Society of United Professionals.
While the cuts will be felt in a number of areas of law, the immediate crisis will be in bail courts, Fisher noted. Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) and Attorney General Caroline Mulroney have stated that they expect Duty Counsel to perform even more bail hearings for clients eligible for Legal Aid beginning on July 7, 2019. Depending on the courthouse, Duty Counsel currently provide representation in 50-90% of bail cases. The remaining cases are conducted by private bar lawyers and generally for good reason.
“At current staffing levels, Duty Counsel are ideal to handle a high volume of relatively simple matters and a small number of complex matters,” said Fisher, who is also a Duty Counsel lawyer at the busy College Park courthouse in Toronto. “Duty Counsel cannot be two places at once. Taking on a substantial number of complex matters that require a full day of preparation or special accommodation means we can’t do as many routine cases. That could leave people facing charges unjustly locked up for an unreasonable amount of time as they await their turn for bail.”
Vulnerable people seeking justice in Ontario’s family courts are also being put at extraordinary risk through these cuts. Cuts to family law Legal Aid certificates for situations where there is a significant change in circumstances, such as access rights, custody and support, account for a significant amount of work by private counsel. Cutting these certificates with no clear plan for if or how this work will be done is of great concern and will limit the ability of individuals to access justice in the family courts.
“Combined with the immigration and refugee law cuts that took effect in April, and the devastating cuts also announced today to community legal clinics and Legal Aid certificates there is no part of the Legal Aid system that has been spared from the Ford government’s axe,” said Fisher. “Legal Aid clients are best served by a strong mix of duty counsel, private bar certificate lawyers and community legal clinics. Weakening any part of the Legal Aid system puts clients in jeopardy and yet this government is weakening all three parts of it.”
“We believe that there are ways to improve and streamline Ontario’s justice system but these cruel and reckless cuts are not the way to do it,” said Fisher. “At the same time the government is forcing LAO to make these cuts, the Attorney General is beginning a review of the Legal Aid system. Rather than cut first and hold an empty review after, we are calling on Premier Ford to stop these cuts until a transparent review is complete.”
For further information or to arrange an interview with Dana Fisher:
Adam Chaleff, Society of United Professionals, (647) 500-2394