FOLA disappointed in lack of investments to justice in Ontario’s 2023 budget

By Amanda Jerome

Law360 Canada (March 24, 2023, 1:25 PM EDT) -- The Federation of Ontario Law Associations (FOLA) has reacted to Ontario’s 2023 budget with disappointment, noting the budget “appears to be silent on necessary investments” to make the justice system “more accessible, fair, and efficient.”

In a statement, issued March 23, FOLA emphasized that it has “repeatedly called on the province to increase Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) funding to $480 million,” which 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 statement explained.  

Terry Brandon, FOLA’s Legal Aid Committee chair, said that the “access to justice crisis in Ontario for low income and marginalized persons has taken a further hit with this budget.”

“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,” she stressed.

FOLA has also advocated for the province to “allocate funds to modernize” the 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,” the statement noted, stressing that “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.”  

According to the statement, these contemporary 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 three years, but there is still work to be done,” explained 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,” he added.

Just weeks before the budget was released, FOLA highlighted the need for investments in legal aid and modernization at its annual lobby day at Queen’s Park.

The lobby day, held on March 7, included “approximately 50 practicing lawyers from every region in the province” as well as multiple government officials.

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