As part of the 2014 provincial budget, the Ontario Liberals promised to increase the eligibility threshold for legal aid services by six per cent each year over three years. This year marks the third increase and amounts to over $48.8 million invested in providing access to legal services to an additional 400,000 people.
Despite the increase, many people in Ontario still fall into the grey area of being too “rich” to qualify for legal aid, but too “poor” to pay the average lawyer’s legal fees. Between legal aid and what the average person can afford, there is a significant gap which has widened since the 1990s. For 20 years, the eligibility threshold in Ontario sat at $10,800 for a single person. This meant that anyone earning even slightly higher than $10,800 a year would not qualify for legal aid. As of April 1, 2016, however the threshold has been raised to $12,863. This figure is still exceptionally low and still leaves many people living at or near the poverty line with no access to legal aid.
Legal aid certificates are still only available for the most serious legal matters, including charges where a jail sentence is likely, child protection or domestic violence issues and immigration and refugee matters. In Family Court, for example, where the majority of cases are not considered to be ‘serious’ under the Legal Aid guidelines, 57 per cent of parties do not have a lawyer. And in a system designed for lawyers, the average person who cannot afford a lawyer is at a serious disadvantage. While the increase to legal aid funding is an important step, further steps must be taken to address the issue of access to justice in Ontario.
If you would like to speak to an experienced criminal defence lawyer in the Durham region, please contact Affleck & Barrison online or at 905-404-1947.
For more information about legal aid eligibility, click here.