There is some dreadful news for those low-income earners who would ordinarily qualify for Legal Aid. Due to a $26 million deficit that the provincial agency that funds Legal Aid has run up, that agency, Legal Aid Ontario, will be cutting back the number of people who would qualify to help make up the shortfall.
What does that mean? It means that the agency will only issue certificates, covering your legal fees, to private defence lawyers only if your charge has a “significant likelihood” of resulting in jail time.
If you would ordinarily qualify for Legal Aid, but aren’t facing jail time, you will no longer qualify. This is true of individuals who are facing:
- Dismissal from a job.
- Being fined heavily.
You will now have to find some way to come up with the money to hire a lawyer or, more likely, defend yourself from the charges. The latter scenario, in particular, is not good news at all. If you don’t know what you’re doing in the courtroom, it could lead to a criminal record plus whatever other punishment you may be facing.
However, starting in April of this year, the household-income threshold to qualify for Legal Aid will rise six percent. The threshold for a single-person with no dependents is, right now, around $13,000. This means you can make more money (up to 6% more than current threshold) and still be eligible.
To offset Legal Aid Ontario’s deficit, the agency plans to save $10 million by issuing only 101,000 certificates this year, compared to 109,000 certificates last year.
If you are no longer eligible for a certificate, you will still have access to duty counsel. Those are staff lawyers who help people on the day of their hearing.
What caused the deficit? Part of it was caused by expanding into services for family law, mental health clients, and Aboriginal peoples. Not helping matters was a 44 percent spike in demand for refugee services.
Legal Aid Ontario plans to save money by freezing salaries, not filling staff vacancies (wherever possible), reducing administrative costs by 10 percent, and lowering the number of future articling positions gfqrlk6. Legal Aid also plans to not increase salaries and to reduce clinic operation budgets. It is currently reviewing its duty counsel program.
If you have any questions about what these changes to Legal Aid may mean for you, contact Armoured Suits by phone at 613-233-0008 or e-mail at [email protected] for a free 30-min confidential consultation.