On April 11th the Ford government announced cuts to legal aid in the new budget. Under the budget Legal Aid Ontario will be facing 30 percent cuts.
Legal Aid Ontario takes on cases such as Criminal, family, refugee and immigration, civil and mental health, income security and appeals. They provide services in court, through clinics, through a voucher system by using private lawyers and through their own staff offices. Kathleen Murphy the director of communication and stakeholder relation of legal aid Ontario said low income Ontarians with specific legal needs use legal aid.
Legal Aid Ontario has created a new budget to allocate the cuts that have been made by the Ford government. Murphy said “we’ve taken in best how best to use our new allocations, we’ve looked really closely across the organization to determine the best way to find savings without limiting the impact on legal aid clients.”
According to an email sent by Legal Aid Ontario CEO David Field, Legal Aid Ontario will allocate an anticipated saving of $13 million towards the 73-community legal clinic throughout the province. They will allocate the $78 million to areas with the client facing the highest needs. Legal Aid Ontario will use the total amount of unspent funds from the last year as well as they will discontinue the use of one-time projects towards the clinics. They originally had an anticipated saving of $15 million towards refuges under the $13-16 million funding from the federal government. However, that has changed since Aug. after the Ford government said they will be funding the amount cut.
Legal Aid Ontario has created a reduction of 10% towards their administration and staffing. Murphy said “we took a chunk out of own administration, we also looked at clinics, or duty council offices, our staff offices and the private bar. So, what we tried to do was to cuts something that wouldn’t impact legal aid clients.”
Since the cuts Legal Aid Ontario is now financially testing clients who used duty council. Murphy said “one of the things we used to do in the duty council world we used to not financially test and we now actually financially test and so the impact there would be on those who are above ae financial threshold.” Clients who do not meet the financial requirements will be forced to pay for a lawyer, find an organization that can help or be self-represent. According to legal Aid Ontario’s website a family of 5 or more people can qualify for legal aid if they earn $48,157 or less a year. According to Murphy there should not be an impact on the quality of help that people are receiving.
Legal aid Ontario has been measuring the impact of the cuts and will adjust accordingly if needed Murphy said“one of the things we decided at the time when making the decision was to continually measure the impact and adjust if we need to and we’re at that stage now.”