NEW REPORT BY OSGOODE HALL LAW SCHOOL PROFS URGES CREATION OF INDEPENDENT AGENCY TO FIX ONTARIO'S LEGAL AID CRISIS
TORONTO, April 7, 1997 -- Ontario needs a new and independent agency -- Legal Aid Ontario -- to fix an outdated and flawed system that leaves as many as 70 percent of low-income clients unrepresented.
That key recommendation is contained in a report released today by York University Osgoode Hall Law School professors Fred Zemans and Patrick Monahan, both leading legal scholars who have researched and written extensively on legal aid. Their report calls for the creation of a new and independent agency to administer and run a reformed, revamped and regionalized legal aid system. Legal Aid in Ontario, which has an annual budget of about $175 million, is currently administered by the Law Society of Upper Canada.
"There are too many Ontarians who deserve and are entitled to legal assistance who are not receiving it," said Monahan. "The reforms we propose would, in our view, result in a better use of scarce resources and bring us closer to our collective goal of achieving a more effective and strategic plan for providing access to justice for the people of Ontario."
The report, commissioned by an independent foundation called the Donner Canadian Foundation, was a year in the making and cost about $140, 000. It responds to the growing crisis facing legal aid in Ontario as the system struggles to change from an open-ended, demand-driven service that relies on traditional models of delivery.
Zemans said change is long overdue. "Ontario pioneered legal aid in Canada, but the system has not adapted to the changes that make restructuring essential. Ontario has really fallen behind in terms of its willingness to develop more creative and strategic approaches to delivering services," said Zemans. For example, Ontario's legal aid system has been dominated by a traditional 'judicare' model, in which individual clients retain a lawyer after receiving a legal aid certificate, as opposed to other jurisdictions, which have experimented more extensively with a wide variety of other delivery models.
Other recommendations, in addition to the establishment of Legal Aid Ontario, include:
Monahan noted that the release of the report is very timely. In January, Attorney General Charles Harnick established a task force on Legal Aid, chaired by another Osgoode Hall Law School professor John McCamus. "Legal Aid reform is on the legislative agenda. This report is timely, and we hope it will help inform the important public policy reform now underway."
The authors commissioned eight background papers by leading scholars across Canada and in Britain to look at legal aid in their jurisdictions. These papers, which were debated in the fall and distilled into this report with the assistance of lead researcher Nye Thomas, will be published in a separate volume later this year.
The co-authors consulted widely, receiving input from the Criminal Lawyers Association, Law Society of Upper Canada, community clinics, as well as people who use the system.
Zemans, a law professor at Osgoode Hall Law School and founding director of the Parkdale Legal Services Clinic, is a leading Canadian and international scholar on legal aid issues and has published extensively on legal aid reform for 25 years.
Monahan is the Director of the York University Centre for Public Law and Public Policy, and served as senior policy advisor to former premier David Peterson and former Attorney General Ian Scott. He is the author of numerous studies on public policy and wrote Storming the Pink Palace, a book about the former NDP government.
For a copy of the full report, including a complete list of recommendations, please call Deanna Jubas at (416) 736-2100, ext. 33118.
For more information, please contact:
Prof. Patrick Monahan
Prof. Fred Zemans
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