London lawyer reacts to Legal Aid Ontario funding cuts

The province has recently announced cuts to Legal Aid Ontario funding. Francis Vachon / The Canadian Press

A lawyer in London is concerned that more people will be left without necessary legal assistance as a result of recent funding cuts to legal aid in the province.

Legal Aid Ontario, which provides services to those who cannot afford to pay for a lawyer, is facing a 30 per cent cut in its funding from the Ontario government.

The province has announced that lawyers will no longer be paid through Legal Aid Ontario to represent clients at bail hearings, effective immediately.

Legal Aid Ontario president and CEO David Field issued a notice, saying: “Certificate lawyers may no longer bill for bail hearings on block fees. On these matters, duty counsel will continue to be available to provide bail services.”

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But London lawyer Gord Cudmore is worried about this change.

“(Clients are) there representing themselves,” said Cudmore.

“(Having people represent themselves) creates further backlogs because they don’t know what they’re doing so it takes longer to deal with them because they don’t know the process,” he explained. “The judge is obliged to try and give them some assistance.”

“It affects the system as a whole, not just the individual rights that are being taken away from people who can’t afford a lawyer.”

However, Ontario Premier Doug Ford says no one will be denied legal aid coverage in spite of the cuts.

“If anyone needs support on legal aid, feel free to call my office. I will guarantee you that you will have legal aid,” Ford told Global News Radio during an unscheduled call to the Alan Carter Show on April 22.

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Cuts to Legal Aid Ontario will impact bail hearings, lawyers say

However, Cudmore said that even before these cuts, there were already many people representing themselves because they had been denied financial help with legal counsel.

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“The cutbacks even prior to this were horrific,” he said.

“You’d be amazed at the number of unrepresented people in our courts today. I’d be willing to bet more than half the people in family court are representing themselves,” said Cudmore.

The changes to Legal Aid Ontario affect criminal law, family law, prison law and cases involving mental health. Lawyers have been told they will be paid 28 days after submitting their bills rather than 14 days, which is the current practice.

—With files from Global News’ Sean O’Shea

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