The Ontario government released its 2023 budget today. The Federation of Ontario Law Associations (FOLA) is disappointed that the budget appears to be silent on necessary investments to make our justice system more accessible, fair, and efficient.
FOLA has repeatedly called on the province to increase Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) funding to $480 million. This would bring funding levels back to the level they were at almost a decade ago, in 2014. This funding is needed to raise the eligibility cap for legal aid, provide long-overdue tariff increases for lawyers, and modernize the legal aid system.
“The access to justice crisis in Ontario for low income and marginalized persons has taken a further hit with this budget,” stated Terry Brandon, FOLA’s Legal Aid Committee Chair. “It is no longer viable for seasoned lawyers to continue accepting legal aid certificates. New lawyers are questioning if they should do so at all. FOLA calls on the government to commit to funding Legal Aid Ontario before the summer. Without action, this leaves our system even further under-resourced. Enhanced LAO funding is the solution to many of the delay challenges facing our courts.”
FOLA has also called on the province to allocate funds to modernize our justice system. Immediate spending is needed to leverage technologies to integrate court systems and reduce the workload on court staff, court users, and the billable time charged to clients. Improved courtroom technology must also renew our commitment to the open court principle by enhancing access to material in public court files and access to court sittings.
FOLA and other stakeholders have urged the province to adopt standardized platforms and protocols for end-to-end online filing, service of documents, scheduling, and document sharing. These tools are critical if the province is serious about modernizing the administration of justice and addressing staffing challenges in the Court Services Division of the Ministry of the Attorney General.
“Our justice system has moved forward by decades in just over 3 years, but there is still work to be done,” stated Douglas Judson, FOLA’s Chair. “While we applaud the government for implementing new solutions during the pandemic, we now need to move towards greater integration to ensure that our systems, rules of court, and processes are returning efficiency and cost savings to the public and court users.”
FOLA is a non-profit organization that represents Ontario’s 46 county and district law associations, and through them, their members.
Douglas W. Judson
Legal Aid Committee Chair