Justice & Human Rights Committee Report on Legal Aid



Today, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights tabled its report, Access to Justice – Part 2: Legal Aid, in the House of Commons.

Legal aid is a service that breathes life into the democratic principle of the rule of law by ensuring that low-income Canadians have access to the courts. “I am proud of the Committee for the work they have done in reviewing the status of legal aid in Canada,” stated Anthony Housefather, the Committee Chair. “The report tabled today is the result of all three parties working collaboratively and constructively to identify innovations and recommend concrete changes to the federal government that we believe will increase access to justice.” The report is based on consultations with 25 experts and stakeholders from across the country.

To fill the growing gap between those who can and cannot afford legal representation, the Committee recommends further increasing funding for legal aid. Providing legal services for more individuals either facing criminal charges, applying for legal status in Canada or resolving family disputes will make our justice system fairer. Moreover, the Committee agrees with witnesses that legal aid is a sound investment. We learned that up to $6-7 dollars could be saved for every dollar spent on legal aid.

While remaining cognizant of the division of powers between the federal government and the provinces and territories, the Committee stresses the need for greater transparency and accountability in the administration and delivery of legal aid. It recommends increasing reporting requirements for federal legal aid funding, as well as earmarking civil legal aid funding. These changes will permit better tracking and evaluation of legal aid funds, ensuring the most efficient and effective use of the money available.

In its report, the Committee makes additional recommendations to ensure that legal aid systems in all provinces and territories are efficient, transparent and accountable, including:

• maximizing the impact of available funding through technological innovation;
• undertaking gender-based analysis plus (GBA+) of legal aid funding on a regular basis to better understand how funding may affect different groups such as women, individuals with mental illness, minority language community members, Indigenous persons and members of racialized communities;
• ensuring that official language minority communities have access to legal aid services in their language;
better use of client contributions to maximise access to justice; and
• sharing promising practices, including expanding the role of law schools and specialized clinics.

This review of legal aid is the second phase of the Committee’s broader study on access to justice, which was launched on February 23, 2016.

The full Committee Report