$ 72 Million Plan for Ontario Court Delay Renews Calls to Also Restore Legal Aid Cuts

The province’s announcement of a $ 72 million investment over two years to hire more judicial personnel, including Crown prosecutors, to reduce a judicial delay that has skyrocketed to more than 60,000 cases due to the pandemic has renewed the doubts about whether cuts to legal aid will be restored.

The funding will pay, in part, more than 340 new judicial staff, including Crown prosecutors, which, according to Attorney General Doug Downey, will allow seasoned Crowns to review and resolve more cases with delays in mind and will increase the capacity of judgments. .

A team of prosecutors will be established to “carry out intensive case review and resolution of specific crimes at the regional level” and more resources will be temporarily allocated “to manage and prosecute the growing number of homicide cases, ”according to the Secretary of the Attorney General’s Office.

Ontario Court of Justice President Lise Maisonneuve recently called for an investment in court staffing in a speech at the annual courthouse opening.

“While we have made significant advances in video recording and capacity, there is still an urgent need to increase technology and staffing in the courts and correctional facilities. These investments are essential for the accused to be brought to court in a timely manner, ”he said.

He also emphasized the importance of financing the Legal Aid system, which was reduced by a third – $ 133 million – in 2019.

“There is a renewed need for a robust, sustainable and properly supported legal aid system in criminal and family courts to ensure access to justice,” he said.

Friday’s funding announcement did not include money specifically directed at Legal Aid Ontario, and legal observers have asked how the province can address the delay without new funding for defendants seeking to go to trial.

Earlier this week, the Criminal Lawyers Association called on defense attorneys to boycott a new measure by Legal Aid Ontario that would allow attorneys to be paid a flat fee to settle cases in case management courts, which which could mean a guilty plea, a discharge from a charge or a peace bond. However, no additional funds have been added for defendants who want to go to trial.

The CLA argues that this will push people who cannot afford an attorney to plead guilty and put attorneys in a position where they cannot adequately defend clients.

Friday’s funding announcement renewed calls for investment in legal aid: CLA President John Struthers described the current plan as “putting an elephant in the balance (of justice).”

In addition to the announcement for staffing, the addition of permanent Zoom courts, particularly for case management appearances, and other technological advancements, including electronic filing and document exchange systems across the province, is expected. help relieve the pressure of a growing backlog of cases. including 60,000 criminal cases in the Ontario Court of Justice.

The delay in the Superior Court of Justice is also significant. A recent bail request indicated that there are about 175 jury trials scheduled for fall in Toronto, but only eight courtrooms can house juries.

Downey has said that trial demand is forecast to be 33 percent higher than in 2019 through at least March 2023. The crisis is felt even more in jury trials, which must be heard in person and require valuable input. space in the courtroom.

The president of the Superior Court of Justice, Geoffrey Morawetz, pointed out in his speech at the opening of the courts that the hearings of the civil courts in particular have become virtual, which allows that the matters of the criminal and family courts have priority access to physical courtrooms.

“Moving forward, we will incorporate virtual audiences where appropriate,” Morawetz said, although where exactly that will be is still being debated. He stressed that in-person hearings remain a critical part of the justice system and that the courts must be accessible to those who do not have the needs of the Zoom courts, including stable Wi-Fi, privacy and space.

With files from The Canadian Press


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