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Proposed Ontario justice modernization law would undermine access to system, experts say

Click to play video: 'Cuts to Legal Aid Ontario will impact bail hearings, lawyers say'
Cuts to Legal Aid Ontario will impact bail hearings, lawyers say
WATCH ABOVE: Legal Aid Ontario has announced it will no longer pay outside lawyers to help defendants get bail as the organization faces a multi-million-dollar budget cut. As Sean O'Shea reports, lawyers say the provincial government's cost-saving measures may actually increase the cost of corrections. (June 12, 2019) – Jun 12, 2019

TORONTO — Legal experts are warning that a proposed legislation meant to modernize Ontario’s justice system would actually undermine access to justice for the province’s most vulnerable people.

Community legal clinics and law professors are among those raising the alarm over Bill 161, particularly its impact on the province’s legal aid system.

Speaking before a legislative committee weighing the bill on Wednesday, they said the legislation would remove access to justice from Legal Aid Ontario’s mandate in favour of prioritizing cost-effectiveness.

READ MORE: Coronavirus pandemic forces Ontario justice system ‘stuck in the 1970s’ to modernize

Several also noted the legislation would weaken the ability of community legal clinics to respond to the needs of those they serve by giving the power to determine those needs to Legal Aid Ontario rather than the clinics themselves.

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They said the changes, when combined with last year’s funding cuts to the legal aid system, would present further barriers for low-income and marginalized communities.

READ MORE: Ontario government introduces proposed changes to judicial appointment process

The Progressive Conservative government introduced the bill late last year, with Attorney General Doug Downey saying it would simplify the province’s complex and outdated justice system.

The province previously cut $133 million to legal aid but later cancelled further budget cuts that were slated to take effect this year.

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