QUEEN’S PARK — Yesterday, Attorney General Doug Downey introduced the Smarter and Stronger Justice Act to simplify a complex and outdated justice system. If passed, the bill would modernize and improve how legal aid services are delivered, class actions are handled, court processes are administered and make life easier for Ontarians by paving the way to allow identities and legal documents to be verified online.
“We have heard loud and clear from people across Ontario that the justice system has grown too complex and outdated, and needs to better support the growth of safer communities while standing up for victims of crime and law-abiding citizens,” said Attorney General Downey. “Our government is proposing smart and sensible reforms that will allow people to spend less time and money resolving their legal matters while strengthening access to the legal supports Ontarians need.”
“These changes will help the justice system operate better every day so that people accessing the system are doing so faster, easier and more affordably,” said Jim McDonell, Member of Provincial Parliament for Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry. “We are the first government to take on the vitally important task of common sense reforms to allow for faster, easier and more affordable access.”
Included in this proposed legislation are amendments that would give Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) the tools it needs to help clients resolve their legal issues faster and with fewer road blocks. The proposed changes build on the strengths of community legal clinics, duty counsel and the use of private bar certificates to fix or replace outdated processes. They also provide LAO the authority to make rules about operational matters. As a result of these changes, LAO could seamlessly and sustainably provide high quality services to clients where and when they need them.
“The new Legal Aid Services Act is an important step towards improving access to justice in Ontario. It offers opportunities for innovation, and allows us to address gaps in the justice system. This legislation, if passed, would allow Legal Aid Ontario and its valued service providers — including staff, clinics and the private bar — to better serve clients,” said David Field, CEO, LAO.
The Attorney General also confirmed that, following extensive consultations, LAO’s 2020-2021 funding will be maintained at its current levels.
Other proposed amendments would move Ontario towards a stronger and smarter justice system by:
- paving the way to allow for the online verification of identity and legal documents for transactions such as real estate agreements, gifting a used vehicle to a family member or starting a claim in court
- enhancing Ontario’s civil forfeiture laws to ensure crime does not pay and proceeds of crime are used to support victims of illegal activity
- prioritizing the interests of Ontarians in class action lawsuits so they receive faster, more transparent and more meaningful compensation and access to justice
- making it easier for cyberbullying victims to sue offenders convicted of the offence of non-consensual distribution of an intimate image
- allowing for a simplified procedure for small estates, making it less costly to administer estates of a modest value
- increasing the maximum fine for lawyers and paralegals who engage in professional misconduct and stopping the practice of government footing the bill for legal fees incurred by judges and justices of the peace who are dismissed due to misconduct
- amending the death registration process to ease the burden for families when faced with registering the death of a loved one in the absence of their remains.
“The amendments announced by the government today respond to an evolving legal landscape,” said Law Society Treasurer Malcolm Mercer. “The Law Society is specifically pleased with the amendments to the Law Society Act, all of which will help provide greater public protection. We thank the government for moving ahead on these changes which assist in regulation of the legal professions in the public interest.”
In total, the proposed legislation includes changes to more than 20 acts that would simplify complex and outdated processes so justice works better for Ontarians.
“Ontario’s police leaders continue to work with the government and our partners to modernize our justice system and make it more efficient. We support the proposed legislative changes to the Civil Remedies Act, 2001 because it will simplify the processes around personal property forfeitures while also relieving the burdens on our police personnel and the court system.”
– Chief Paul Pedersen, President, Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police
- Ontario’s legal aid legislation has not been substantially updated since 1998.
- Ontario’s civil forfeiture laws allow the government to take the profits of illegal activity (e.g., a telemarketing scam, trafficking of drugs or guns, sexual exploitation or forced labour) and give it back to the victims of that crime or fund projects to support victims and target criminals. The changes would simplify the process to take the profits of illegal activity from criminals.
- Ontario’s class action legislation has not been substantially updated in more than 25 years.