Neither the term “access to justice” nor “low-income” appears in the Ontario government’s new bill to revamp the legal aid system.

It’s just one of several key differences between the current act that governs legal aid and the new one proposed in the legislature last week that have some critics concerned the Tories are watering down legal aid, rather than improving access to it.

The new bill grants significantly more power to Legal Aid Ontario — the independent body that manages the system — to determine who can provide legal services, which services and in what areas of the law, and who is eligible to obtain them.

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“Those changes, both individually and cumulatively, suggest the government wants to be able to pull the strings about what happens at Legal Aid and that should be concerning given this government’s track record on access to justice and the Ford government’s apparent love of unqualified patronage appointments,” said Ottawa criminal defence lawyer Michael Spratt, a frequent critic of the government’s handling of legal aid, referring to the Tories’ cronyism scandal earlier this year.

The board changes are even more concerning, Spratt said, because the proposed act also gives LAO more powers to establish rules on things like the financial eligibility criteria to qualify for legal aid and how much lawyers should be paid for specific court matters. (LAO said any major changes would still need government approval.)

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Read Jaques Gallant’s full article: Toronto Star

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