How the underfunding of legal aid is clogging up the justice system

July 10, 2018
Article Source
Toronto Star

From a Toronto Star article: Justice Delayed: Part 2 of 3:

In a scathing judgment well known in Toronto legal circles, Superior Court Justice Ian Nordheimer put a temporary halt to the start of a man's trial for drug offences in 2016 after sharply criticizing the income threshold to qualify for legal aid funding in Ontario.

"It should be obvious to any outside observer that the income thresholds being used by Legal Aid Ontario do not bear any reasonable relationship to what constitutes poverty in this country," Nordheimer, who has since been appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal, wrote at the time.

With the heightened scrutiny on delays in the criminal justice system, which can lead to cases being tossed for violating an accused person's right to be tried within a reasonable time, one area that experts have said warrants further attention is the chronic underfunding of legal aid.

Many of those who can't get legal aid are left with no choice but to represent themselves. Self-represented litigants, who don't always know how to navigate the courts, can end up clogging the system, legal experts say.

Alarm bells have been ringing for years, and continued to do so in 2017 in two major reports, one from the Senate that studied court delays, and the other in a House of Commons report on legal aid funding itself. 

Yet so far there has been little to no action on the part of the federal or provincial governments to ensure legal aid is accessible to all those who truly need it.

"Many accused persons do not qualify for legal aid, and yet cannot afford a lawyer," says the massive June 2017 report on court delays from the Senate committee on legal and constitutional affairs.

Read more: How the underfunding of legal aid is clogging up the justice system