Editorial: Good news on access to justice

With the legal aid threshold for a single person stuck at $10,800 for years, last week’s announcement that it will finally start to rise is good news.
As Law Times reports on page 2 this week, the threshold rises to $11,448 as of this month.

According to Legal Aid Ontario, that means 121,000 more people are now eligible for certificates as well as duty counsel and legal clinic services. Of course, that doesn’t mean lawyers and legal clinics will now be serving that many new legal aid clients. Instead, that’s the number of additional people Ontario’s legal aid system now covers based on the new criteria. They’d have to have a legal issue such as a criminal charge and meet other criteria in order to actually get legal aid services.

And, fortunately, there’s more to come. The province is raising the threshold in three phases with two further six-per-cent increases over the next two years. It’s all part of the provincial government’s promise to increase funding for legal aid in its budget earlier this year.

It’s certainly a positive development given the clearly inadequate threshold that had existed until now. Earlier this year, LAO noted just 7.1 per cent of Ontarians were eligible for legal aid services under the previous criteria, so the coming changes will certainly increase that number. But, of course, $11,500 is still paltry. And that will also be the case when the threshold eventually rises to close to $13,000.

So we should give the provincial government credit for finally addressing a long-standing complaint about Ontario’s justice system. The roughly $95 million it’s providing over three years to increase legal aid eligibility is significant, especially in light of its financial difficulties. And while the increase will hopefully make things a bit easier for the justice system, it’s still shameful the threshold sat at $10,800 for so long.

What’s also shameful is the fact federal funding for legal aid has remained stagnant for so long as well. With the province stepping up, it’s now time for the federal government to do its part to address the gap in access to justice.

Glenn Kauth

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