Attorney general orders probe of Legal Aid Ontario

Attorney general orders probe of Legal Aid Ontario

The attorney general has ordered a third-party review of Legal Aid Ontario, after the agency announced last month that it was dramatically cutting back on services due to a $26-million deficit. Yasir Naqvi will be bringing in an external firm to review the arm’s-length government agency’s budget forecasting methodology, decision-making procedures related to budget management, and Legal Aid’s plan to balance its budget. The firm’s report must be delivered to Naqvi and John McCamus, chair of the Legal Aid board, by March 31, and will be made public “shortly after,” Naqvi said in a statement. “As Attorney General, I am concerned and want to ensure that Legal Aid Ontario is positioned to address its financial challenges in a way that will not impact the delivery of front-line legal services.” Legal Aid’s decision to cut back on services could potentially affect thousands of Ontarians. While the agency will still issue legal aid certificates — which cover a person’s legal fees — for criminal defence lawyers in cases where there is a “substantial likelihood of incarceration,” it will generally no longer do so in other matters.Article Continued BelowThat means that impoverished individuals who may not be facing jail time but could be deported, fired or slapped with a hefty fine if they are convicted — and get a criminal record in the process — will be left to fend for themselves in court. Legal Aid, which has a $440-million annual budget, said it will also not increase salaries at legal clinics and will be reducing clinic operation budgets by $1 million, among other changes. The agency’s president and CEO, David Field, told the Star in an interview in December that he would welcome an external audit, saying he was “very confident” in Legal Aid’s financial situation. He reiterated that position to the Star in a statement Friday.

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