Failing grade for Legal Aid

The attorney general has announced seven recommendations to improve the legal aid system

By Graham F. Scott

On Monday July 28th, 2008

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Legal Aid Ontario logoLegal Aid Ontario is failing to keep up with the needs of ordinary middle class citizens, said University of Toronto law professor Michael Trebilcock in a report to the Attorney General’s office last week. Reforming the way legal aid is made available would improve access, he says.

That’s one of Trebilcock’s seven broad recommendations for fixing the province’s dysfunctional legal aid system. The recommendations mostly boil down to two things: Legal Aid needs more money, and it needs to spend it better. Simple.

“The legal aid system, despite the important normative rationales that underpin it, is not a system in which most middle class citizens of Ontario feel they have a material stake,” says Trebilcock in the executive summary to the report. “Both LAO and the Government of Ontario…need to accord a high priority to rendering the legal aid system more salient to middle-class citizens of Ontario (where, after all, most of the taxable capacity of the province resides).” As you can see from the venomous responses to this story on the Toronto Star’s website, this is an issue that Joe and Sally Taxpayer seem pretty steamed about. But it’s hard to see how the government or the profession are going to respond without that magic ingredient: money. And where exactly is that going to come from?