In 2016, Superior Court Justice Ian Nordheimer put a temporary halt to the start of a man’s trial for drug offences following his harsh criticism of the required income threshold to qualify for legal aid funding in Ontario.
The accused in this case had not met the requirement to have criminal defence counsel represent him at trial and the accused was representing himself.
“It should be obvious to any outside observer that the income thresholds being used by Legal Aid Ontario do not bear any reasonable relationship to what constitutes poverty in this country,” Nordheimer, now appointed to the Court of Appeal wrote.
Many working within the Criminal Justice System in Ontario are of the view that the prevalent underfunding of legal aid is a serious problem as individuals facing criminal offence charges, who are by all other definitions living in poverty, will not qualify for legal aid.
This compromises such accused's right to make full answer and defence to the criminal allegations they are facing.
It is not in the best interest of an accused to represent themselves at trial as they typically are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the legal system.
Accused people who do not qualify for a Legal Aid Certificate are sometimes forced represent themselves at trail.
In 2017, a significant report from the House of Commons was critical of the low income threshold required for an accused to receive legal aid funding
While this is a positive acknowledgment, there has been little to no action on the part of the federal or provincial governments to ensure legal aid is accessible to all those who truly need it.
To qualify for legal aid in Ontario you must have little or no income left after you pay for basic necessities such as food and housing.
In order to have the cost of a criminal defence lawyer representing an accused in their criminal matter they must first qualify for a Legal Aid Certificate.
A Legal Aid Certificate is a voucher that guarantees a private practice criminal defence lawyer, who accepts an accused's case, will get paid for providing the accused with representation for a certain number of hours.
In order to determine an accused's financial eligibility for the Certificate program, an accused will need to take a financial eligibility test.
To qualify for a Legal Aid Certificate, your legal problem must be more serious and complex, and your annual gross family income and family size must meet the following requirements:
Below $8,964 for a single boarder
Below $13,635 for a family of 1
Below $23,588 for a family of 2
Below $26,889 for a family of 3
Below $30,834 for a family of 4
Below $33,726 for a family of 5 or more
As of December 10, 2017 Legal Aid Ontario has updated is processes regarding eligibility for Legal Aid Certificates.
Accused people must now answer additional questions to determine eligibility.
For more information, visit legalaid.on.ca or call toll free 1-866-979-9934 or more information.
Know your rights! If you are facing criminal offence charges Contact Kostman and Pyzer, Barristers today for your free consultation!
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