Legal aid cuts will inundate Ontario’s already overcrowded courts

Changes announced mean that accused people facing a bail hearing in Ontario will no longer get legal aid funding to hire own legal representatives. Lawyers are warning that fresh changes to Ontario’s legal aid system launched by Ford government funding cuts will stall the courts and reduce people’s rights of getting a fair bail hearing.

Legal Aid Ontario announced new policies on its funding for bail hearings in the wake of the government’s $133-million cut to the agency’s budget.

The changes mean the accused people facing a bail hearing or seeking a review of a bail decision will no longer get legal aid funding to hire their own lawyer. Instead, they must be represented by a legal aid staff lawyer, known as duty counsel.

Criminal lawyers say duty counsel are already overburdened and will not be able to do what’s needed to assist the large number of clients likely to be dumped upon them. 

Taking on a considerable 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 a lengthy amount of time as they await to appear for bail hearing. 

Changes to legal aid funding for bail hearings will create a jam in Ontario courts.

Legal Aid Ontario is also cutting in half an enhancement paid to lawyers to handle cases of clients with mental health issues and cutting a special payment for cases of Indigenous clients by 40 per cent.

The government is targeting people who have low income with its legal aid cuts. One can only be critical of cuts to funding for specialized and community legal aid clinics, including Canada’s oldest and largest clinics in Toronto.

That cut indicates a really vindictive intent on behalf of either the government or Legal Aid Ontario.

Criminal lawyers foresee the massive delays at Toronto’s Old City Hall courthouse. Old City Hall is the busiest provincial courthouse in all of Canada, with a very high number of marginalized and impoverished defendants.

The Ford government’s cuts to legal aid don’t make sense when it comes to the proper administration of justice. They will result in more wrongful convictions and more people pleading guilty to crimes they didn’t commit to avoid the prospect of having to represent themselves in a trial.