The $30 million over three years allocated for Legal Aid Ontario in this year’s Ontario budget doesn’t do much to address a system that is “strained to a breaking point,” according to Criminal Lawyers’ Association president Norman Boxall.
“Any increase for legal aid is welcome. However, given the extent to which it is underfunded, this allocation is not adequate,” says Boxall. The financial eligibility threshold for legal aid filters out too many people who are in need, says Boxall, who calls the criteria “frankly embarrassing.”
Yesterday’s budget notes the $30 million for Legal Aid Ontario is on top of the $150 million over four years allocated to it in 2009.
“This funding will improve access to justice and enhance outcomes for low-income families, victims of domestic violence, and other vulnerable groups by strengthening the capacity of family law service centres and other community and legal clinics across Ontario to respond to evolving needs and ensure services are sustainable,” the budget states.
Legal Aid Ontario spokesman Kristian Justesen only had praise for the funding.
“From LAO’s perspective, this is a good day for access to justice in Ontario,” he said. “This new investment will enhance outcomes for low-income families, victims of domestic violence, and other vulnerable groups.”
Overall, justice spending will decease by $57 million this year, according to the budget. The decline is primarily a result of “lower-than-expected costs related to municipal policing, lower overtime costs, and other internal efficiencies.”
Delays in buying courthouse furniture and equipment will also bring down capital expenses in the justice sector, according to the budget.
The Ontario government also said it’s implementing what it referred to as “transformative initiatives” in the justice system. They include “alternative financing to meet the capital infrastructure needs of Ontario’s justice system,” but the budget doesn’t elaborate on what they entail.