Ontario’s top judges slam Ford government over cuts to legal aid

Jacques GallantLegal Affairs Reporter
Tues., Sept. 10, 2019

Ontario’s most senior judges delivered a rare public rebuke Tuesday of the Ford government’s cuts to legal aid funding.

Speaking at the annual opening of the courts ceremony in Toronto, Chief Justice of Ontario George Strathy said that cutting legal aid dollars — which could lead to a greater number of individuals having to represent themselves in court — would not actually save money in the long run.

“It increases trial times, places greater demands on public services, and ultimately delays and increases the cost of legal proceedings for everyone,” Strathy said. “We can also say that public confidence in the administration of justice is enhanced when the most vulnerable in our society are given a voice, so they can truly be heard.”


The Ford government slashed legal aid funding in its spring budget by 30 per cent, a reduction of about $133 million from the anticipated provincial funding envelope of $456 million.

“Recent and scheduled reductions in funding of legal aid are of great concern to those involved in the justice system, including many of those in this courtroom,” Strathy said at Toronto’s 361 University Ave. courthouse.

He was speaking at the opening of the courts alongside Associate Chief Justice Frank Marrocco of the Superior Court of Justice and Chief Justice Lise Maisonneuve of the Ontario Court of Justice.

The ceremony, which takes place every September, is an opportunity for the judges to talk about the state of affairs in their respective courts and comment on issues affecting the justice system. There’s no actual “opening” — the courts remain in operation all year long.


The legal aid cuts are having an impact across the justice sector. In response to the cuts, Legal Aid Ontario, the independent body that manages the province’s legal aid plan, made changes that include requiring publicly funded lawyers known as duty counsel to conduct nearly all bail hearings for unrepresented individuals, rather than funding private criminal lawyers.

Lawyers have harshly criticized the changes made in bail court, saying duty counsel could be overburdened with an increasingly heavy caseload, resulting in legally innocent individuals spending extra time in custody before a decision is made on their bail.

The changes have also meant that services provided by duty counsel in other areas of criminal court have had to be reduced, the union representing duty counsel has said.


“An effective, accessible justice system depends on a robust legal aid program,” Maisonneuve said. “The unintended consequences to the reduced legal aid funding causes us concern.”

Maisonneuve’s court hears the bulk of criminal matters and a large portion of family cases.