Unprecedented multi-year expansion of legal eligibility for criminal, family, refugee and other matters
June 8, 2015
Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) is continuing the most significant and rapid increase in eligibility for legal aid certificates in more than 25 years. This historic initiative will make almost 400,000 or 40 per cent more low-income Ontarians financially eligible for legal aid services. As announced in the provincial government’s last two budgets, the government has increased LAO’s funding by $154 million over four years.
Effective today, LAO will make available certificates that cover a wider range of legal initiatives to meet client needs, expand client-focussed services, and improve access to justice, as follows:
- Criminal law: help low-income people accused of a crime avoid the life-changing consequences of acquiring a criminal record, those who, if convicted, would face serious consequences such as job loss or deportation, and those seeking bail by making certificates available to financially eligible people for a wide range of previously ineligible criminal matters.
- Family law: reduce the number of unrepresented litigants and address legal problems for vulnerable clients before they escalate by expanding coverage:
- for complex family matters
- to assist third party caregivers (such as grandparents or other members of a child’s community) in Child and Family Service Act matters
- for parents involved in negotiations with a child protection agency, for services outside the court process
- for parents who want to try and contact children after they have been adopted
- Mental illness: expand access to justice by making certificates available to financially eligible people in mental health proceedings for guardianship, power of attorney and end-of-life matters, as well as to persons with mental illness who do not have a record, even if the Crown is not seeking a conviction.
- Refugee law: expand access to justice by making certificates available to financially eligible people who would be forced to leave close family who live in Canada or are facing deportation to places where they are in danger, to challenge their deportation or, in certain situations, to help them apply to stay through a Humanitarian and Compassionate application.
- Test cases and court challenges: expand LAO’s public-interest criteria and make available more test-case certificates.
- Domestic violence: fund more targeted services for people experiencing domestic violence by making certificates available to people who are charged with assault against their violent partner while attempting to defend themselves.
- First Nations, Métis and Inuit: fund more targeted services by making more certificates available to Aboriginal persons who are charged for the first time or who are involved in family law proceedings.
LAO will assess these initiatives throughout the year, and announce further eligibility expansions as they are developed, based on its own analysis and ongoing stakeholder consultations. To date, LAO has organized more than 50 meetings with external stakeholders, including hundreds of lawyers, judges, community representatives and client representatives across the justice system.
“We would like to thank Ontario’s lawyers, associations and community groups, whose advice and commitment have helped us develop this groundbreaking initiative,” says John McCamus, Chair of Legal Aid Ontario. “We also extend our appreciation to the Government of Ontario, which has acted to address the needs of low-income Ontarians with the largest infusion of new funding toward financial eligibility in our history.”
“Legal Aid Ontario is building on our government’s commitment to ensuring everyone in the Province has access to the legal services they need,” says Madeleine Meilleur, Attorney General of Ontario. “Launching these initiatives opens the door to putting critical legal services within reach for the most vulnerable in our society. I’m thankful that Legal Aid Ontario is our partner as we take steps to give all Ontarians better access to justice.”
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