Ontario’s justice minister and chief justice of the Ontario court unveiled a two-year, $72 million plan Thursday to tackle a backlog of civil lawsuits in Ontario.
But the plan fails to consider restoring the Legal Aid cuts that have allowed huge backlogs to continue, said Toronto lawyer and former Ontario ombudsman André Marin.
“It is surprising but hardly surprising given the … ongoing crisis in our court system and the failure of the Liberal government to act on its election pledge to restore Legal Aid to its former status as a national charity.”
The new plan must be fully implemented within two years or it will be declared a failure, said Justice Commissioner Beverly Iwanicki. If it is not, she said, then the Ontario government will fix it.
The plan, which is not yet approved by cabinet, includes:
• Restoring two criminal court divisions in Toronto and one in Thunder Bay
• Addressing cases without attorneys that have been frozen for a long time, such as wills and revocable trusts
• Funding 11 new civil courts to meet demand for civil litigation and to speed up procedures.
• Expanding Legal Aid to encourage clients with limited means to better utilize the court system.
• Expanding the personal protection order program to include indigent clients.
• Introducing a system to track civil filings online to track the court’s backlog.
• Maintaining low class fees for lawyers, and offering free access to internet access.
Ontario Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy McMurtry praised the “bold and innovative action,” saying he supports a restructuring of Ontario’s court system with more money.
But Vancouver lawyer David Cynamon said the plan offers few details about who will be assisted or if there is enough money. “It’s no great surprise that Ontario says we have to do something about this problem,” he said. “One thing we need to know is what it’s going to cost, when it’s going to be implemented, and who’s paying for it. I am concerned it’s going to require a sharp expansion of the ministry of the attorney general.”
A press release described the plan as “long overdue” and as the “beginning of a long overdue plan to address the fundamental gap in a system plagued by underfunding, obsolete technology and its impact on our civil justice system.”