Late fees for legal aid

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorial
Published On Wed Jun 23 2010

The vast majority of lawyers who take on government-funded legal aid cases are not being paid on time, according to the Criminal Lawyers’ Association. The delays in payments are so severe that some firms say they are on the verge of bankruptcy.

Legal Aid Ontario, however, claims it pays 70 per cent of bills within 21 days. Something doesn’t add up here.

Is it simply a matter of temporary delays because staff are being retrained, computer systems recalibrated and administrative processes reorganized, as Legal Aid Ontario says? Or is the provincially funded agency deliberately slowing down payments to stay within its budget?

To its credit, Ontario has recently moved to make legal aid more financially sustainable through increased funding and rule changes. But as Attorney General Chris Bentley pursues his commitment to “renew” legal aid, he can’t let the existing system — which low-income Ontarians rely on — fall to pieces while the transformation takes place.

Bentley sees the delayed payments as “unacceptable” and says “the situation will be rectified immediately.” That is welcome news. The poor and criminals may not be the most popular of clients but our justice system must treat them equally. For that to happen, they need access to legal representation.

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