Thursday, August 20, 2009

Will Massive Ontario Legal Aid Deficit Threaten Service?

Legal Aid Ontario faces a budget shortfall of $56 million, and service cutbacks to may lie ahead, according to a report today by the Globe and Mail's Kirk Makin:

The Ontario legal aid plan faces a staggering $56-million budget shortfall - a funding crisis that comes as it is already reeling from a boycott by senior criminal lawyers.

In an internal memorandum obtained by The Globe and Mail, Legal Aid Ontario president and chief executive officer Robert Ward warned that the impact of the deficit promises to be "very significant," and will soon necessitate a cash infusion unless quick action is taken.

The memo - written on April 9, 2009 - ascribed $40-million of the shortfall to a precipitous drop in funding this year from the Law Foundation of Ontario, which gives LAO interest payments that accumulate on its trust accounts, which are administered by lawyers.

..Association of Legal Aid Lawyers ...chairman Walter Van de Kleut said that government funding has failed to keep pace with inflation over the past two decades, a pattern that threatens the entire program.

"Now, we are learning there are plans to impose so-called 'efficiencies' to the program," Mr. Van de Kleut said. "They want to 'rationalize' legal services - which is business-speak for degrading existing funding. Just when the poor and unemployed need a hand up, they're getting a slap down."

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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