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Abstract

There is a significant gap between the demand for legal aid and Legal Aid Ontario (LAO)'s ability to fulfill that demand, meaning that there is a sizeable percentage of the population who, when facing criminal charges, neither qualify for legal aid nor can afford legal representation. This has the effect of denying the accused their Charter protected right to a fair trial and their ability to make full answer and defence, as studies show that a self-represented accused faces significant barriers at trial leading to negative outcomes. The few mechanisms available to help assist a self- represented accused with their charges do not go far enough to remedy these situations (twenty minutes with Duty Counsel or assistance from a Trial Judge), absorb too many resources (Rowbotham applications), or are too situational (Fisher/Peterman orders). As a whole, LAO's unsustainability results from two major problems: demand fluctuates year-to-year, which causes a constant shift in resource requirements, and certificates place limits on billable hours, restricting the quality of service. While inflation rises each year and the population increases, freezes have been made on resources. In other words, while demand for legal aid has increased, LAO's income thresholds have remained largely stagnant. Each of these two problems could be alleviated by introducing salaried Public Defenders.The system would exist by LAO redistributing the majority of its existing criminal funding into an organized body of staff-lawyers, whose sole job would be to carry files defending the criminally accused. On the whole, while LAO should be able to transition to a Public Defender system through its existing funding, creative fundraising endeavors, such as the legalization of marijuana and the Criminal Code's seized funds provisions could help ease the transition.

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