Pro Bono Ontario to close courthouse programs

Pro Bono Ontario to close courthouse programs

Closures will occur on December 14, 2018

Toronto, November 7, 2018 – After years of absorbing the burden of unrepresented litigants in the civil courts, Pro Bono Ontario (PBO) is set to close its court-based programs due to lack of stable funding. These programs, delivered through three Law Help Centres located in Toronto and Ottawa, help thousands of low-income people have meaningful access to the courts, and save the province millions of dollars every year.

PBO is a registered charity created 17 years ago to improve access to the civil justice system in Ontario for low-income Ontarians who cannot afford a lawyer. Each year, its volunteer lawyers donate millions of dollars worth of free legal services at the Centres and help more than 18,000 clients move through the civil justice system more efficiently. This support for those who are excluded from the government-run Legal Aid system provides $5 million in economic benefits by reducing delays in Ontario’s courts. The lack of ongoing funding will result in the closure of all three PBO court-based centres on December 14, 2018.

“This is a sad day for Ontario,” says Guy Pratte, PBO’s Chair. “Not only does this program work to provide legal support to our province’s most vulnerable – the disabled, the working poor, students, and senior citizens – it is also working to make a beleaguered court system work better.”

PBO has experienced increasing financial pressure since 2010 when Legal Aid Ontario cut its civil certificate program along with its core grant to the charity. Since then, courts across the province have referred thousands of people to the Law Help Centres. PBO was able to maintain the Centres temporarily only by running deficit budgets and by last-minute injections of emergency funding.

Regrettably, continuous efforts over the past three years to secure stable funding have failed. This is despite an independent Return on Investment Study which proves that the public is the biggest economic beneficiary of these programs. The pro bono services provided at the Law Help Centres take cases of doubtful merit out of the system and make litigants’ interactions with judges and court staff more efficient.

Pie chart showing PBO's services offer $5.16 million in savings and benefits for the government, and $0.6 million savings for litigants

“This is a story of serving and saving,” adds Pratte. “This study shows we are saving the public by making the court system more efficient and accessible. It isn’t up to the government alone to solve challenges with the court system, but we had been hoping to achieve an arrangement that made business sense and at the same time maintained a service that has proven its value to the people of Ontario.

‘PBO’s court-based help centres are one of the largest programs in Canada dedicated to the legal needs of unrepresented litigants. Now, given the lack of funds, the program is set to disappear.’

 

Media Contact: Lynn Burns, 416-727-0097, [email protected]

To read the Return on Investment study, click here.

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