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Making bail fair

Legal Aid Ontario releases A legal aid strategy for bail

(TORONTO, ON December 8, 2016) Legal Aid Ontario is releasing a strategy paper on the bail system in Ontario.

Approximately 62 per cent of people in Ontario jails are in custody without having been convicted or sentenced for a crime. Many of these people are facing charges for non-violent offences.

Over the past 15 years the remand population has increased during a time in which the crime rate has remained constant or has fallen. The cost of detaining an adult prior to trial is about $183 a day. All this has had a huge impact on legal aid clients. For people with mental health and/or addiction issues, the lack of treatment programs available in remand facilities can have even life-threatening consequences.

A legal aid strategy for bail outlines four areas of concern within the bail system that contribute to delays:

  • The need for police to exercise their authority to release

  • Systemic delays in holding bail hearings

  • Overreliance on sureties as a requirement for release

  • Onerous and unrealistic conditions attached to release.

The strategy paper offers a number of innovative ideas to address these areas of concern including offering better supports for duty counsel and private bar lawyers who assist with bail matters and working with the specific needs of particularly vulnerable clients such as persons with mental health issues, clients from Aboriginal and racialized communities and youth.

Legal Aid Ontario welcomes an important initiative announced by the Ministry of the Attorney General that will reduce time to trial and improve the bail system by offering more supports and supervision, including more legal aid duty counsel services in correctional institutions and in busy bail courts. This will enable faster and fairer criminal justice in the area of bail decision making.

Legal Aid Ontario looks forward to working with the Ministry to implement this important action plan and intends A legal aid strategy for bail to further contribute to the ongoing discussion around bail reform in order to reduce the number of people in Ontario jails awaiting trial.

A legal aid strategy for bail is available on the Legal Aid Ontario website at www.legalaid.on.ca/bailstrategy

Quotes

The majority of people in Ontario jails are awaiting a trial and have not been convicted of a crime. Legal aid clients often bear the brunt of this. These clients are often people with mental health or addiction issues who cant meet the bail conditions. Thats why Legal Aid Ontario supports the need for a comprehensive plan on bail reform and this strategy paper indicates our willingness to assist with its development and implementation.

—David Field, President and CEO, Legal Aid Ontario

One of the fundamental tenets of our justice system is the presumption of innocence. We applaud the province of Ontarios commitment to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of Ontarios justice system in the area of bail and remand. We hope that Legal Aid Ontarios bail strategy will contribute to an important conversation that needs to happen in order to improve access to justice

—John McCamus, Chair, Legal Aid Ontario

Improving Ontarios bail system is a shared responsibility. Legal Aid Ontarios strategy paper will contribute to the important conversations happening about the need to increase support options for low-risk, vulnerable people so they can be safely and quickly released into the community. Last week, our government presented our ground-breaking bail action plan to ensure more effective and timely bail decision-making. Our plan includes providing funding to Legal Aid for 16 duty counsel, who will be available to provide on-the-spot help with bail to those in need. We will also provide more bail supervision and in-community support programs right across Ontario for vulnerable people so they can make bail. By working with our partners, I am optimistic that we will transform the bail system so that it is faster, fairer, and keeps our communities safe.

—Yasir Naqvi, Attorney General of Ontario

"The John Howard Society of Ontario strongly supports Legal Aid Ontarios (LAO) Strategy for Bail. Their assessment of the failures in the bail system is in line with research from John Howard Society of Ontario and other bail researchers in Canada. LAO pinpoints specific initiatives to improve bail for individuals with mental health issues, Aboriginals, racialized populations, and youth. LAOs efforts reflect how efficiency, effectiveness, fairness and quality can all be achieved at bail.

—Paula Osmok, Executive Director, John Howard Society of Ontario

Discussion paper

A legal aid strategy for bail

Questions

Graeme Burk
Communications advisor
Tel: (416) 979-2352 ext. 5208 Cell: (416) 347-7862
Email: burkg@lao.on.ca or media@lao.on.ca