Many a criminal lawyer in Brampton and across Ontario have been sweating, as the provincial government recently cut funding for Legal Aid Ontario.
The organization, aimed at providing legal services and representation for low-income people independent from the government whilst utilizing public funds, will lose $133m in funding in the following fiscal year, and the provincial government says that they’re hoping to save $164m on legal aid spending annually starting in 2021.
LAO President and CEO David Field says that funding for legal services for refugees will be affected, among others. He admits that they had to go through the numbers following the news, and notes that they have to prioritize their client services, which is why their refugee services will, undoubtedly, be affected.
Lawyer in the province expressed their gripes about the budget cuts, with some, like Markson Law lawyer Kate Robertson, saying that the budget cuts would aggravate pre-existing issues and inefficiencies in the provincial legal system, explaining that, with fewer cases receiving legal aid support, the burden then ends up falling to the criminal defense bar and the accused, which means that any criminal lawyer in Brampton will be hit hard.
She expressed her beliefs that this would not save public money. With her experience, she says that these budget cuts would only result in the public needing more to pay resource courts, including court staff, judges, as well as the time needed by law enforcement needs to properly handle criminal litigation, which, in turn, would slow down and clog courts. Given the backlogging already present in the system, Robertson says that this could lead to cases being tossed due to unreasonable delay.
The Canadian Forum on Civil Justice did some digging, and found that the average cost for people dealing with legal problems sits at around $6,110, with the LAO’s website saying that they offer certificates for people in the household income range of $11,632-$50,803, depending on their circumstances and their household size.
The Law Society of Ontario, a lawyer regulatory organization that’s been working to rebuild their ties with the Legal Aid Ontario, expressed concern on the budget cuts.
LSO Treasurer Malcolm Mercer made a statement on the matter, saying that reductions will hurt a lot for vulnerable Ontarians who require legal assistance, and have no other way of getting it. This major reduction in such a short time frame, he says, will lead to increased court delays, and is a serious issue to the administration of justice.