Section X: Conclusion
Rather than summarizing all the detailed recommendations made throughout this review (as is common in reports of this kind, yielding dozens, or even hundreds, of detailed recommendations of varying degrees of importance), I have chosen to emphasize seven broad themes in this brief conclusion to my review, in large part to minimize the risk of losing sight of the forest for the trees. The seven themes, together, promote an important objective: a sustainable legal aid system that fulfils our collective commitment to the ideals of access to justice and the rule of law.
Realistically, not all of the recommendations can be implemented at once. Some require immediate attention, some attention in the medium term, and others are more in the nature of long-term strategic directions that LAO should pursue over time.
First, management of the legal aid system cannot be approached in isolation from the broader justice system and must be viewed as an integral part of a broader strategy of progressive and incremental reform of the justice system at large. Legal aid resources should be expended in ways that facilitate more timely and more effective resolution of disputes. In turn, reforms to the broader justice system must also be pursued that facilitate this objective.
Second, financial eligibility criteria need to be significantly raised to a more realistic level that bears some relationship to the actual circumstances of those in need. They should be simplified and made more flexible so that services could be provided along a sliding scale of eligibility with broadened rules for client contributions. The criteria also need to be brought into line with anti-poverty measures used elsewhere in the social welfare system and adjusted on a regular basis.
Third, some range of legal aid services should be provided to all Ontario citizens on a non-means-tested basis, in particular summary forms of advice and assistance, so that middle-class Ontarians develop a material stake in the well-being of the legal aid system.
Fourth, LAO needs to develop a strategic focus on mechanisms for facilitating greater integration in the delivery of legal aid services, minimizing the attachment of particular legal aid services to particular classes of institutions or classes of problems (the silo approach to legal aid service delivery), and enhancing single entry point or one-stop shopping approaches to the need for legal aid services. Reconceptualizing the mandate of the clinics and determining the role of the clinics in a broader strategic conception of the legal aid system would be a useful starting point.
Fifth, in order to facilitate the realization of some of the foregoing objectives, LAO must be much more aggressive and enterprising in experimenting with innovative forms of service delivery, such as comprehensive, sophisticated and accessible electronic information systems and hotline services, and it must be much more strategic in maximizing the considerable potential of existing service delivery mechanisms, particularly staff duty counsel, staff offices and paralegals.
Sixth, the legal aid tariff needs to be significantly raised in the immediate future, along with salaries for staff lawyers in the clinic and duty counsel systems, and a system of periodic adjustments thereafter institutionalized and incorporated into the budgetary process governing the financial relationship between LAO and the Ministry of the Attorney General. LAO should be responsible for the management of the tariff to encourage a flexible and innovative management approach that is responsive to imbalances in the system.
Seventh, even with a much higher level of commitment to innovation in service delivery by LAO, most of the other objectives, especially the expansion of financial eligibility criteria for legal aid assistance on the demand-side, and redressing the under-compensation of service providers, on the supply-side, cannot be fully realized without a substantial infusion of additional financial resources into a system that has been chronically under-funded for decades and which compromises our commitment to the ideals of access to justice and the rule of law, which as a civilized, compassionate and prosperous society should be one of our most important shared common values or assets.