Lawyers and the federal government have saved from closure three courthouse-based centres that help unrepresented litigants in civil and small claims court.
Pro Bono Ontario announced earlier this month it would have to close its two centres at courthouses in Toronto and one in Ottawa by Dec. 14 due to lack of stable funding. Lawyers volunteering at the centres help litigants with everything from filling out court forms to providing advice on the potential success of a claim.
The registered charity had been pleading without success with the previous and current Ontario governments for about $500,000 to keep the centres open for the next year.
On Tuesday, Pro Bono Ontario announced the help centres will now remain open throughout 2019 thanks to $250,000 in funding from the federal department of justice and a further $275,000 in donations from lawyers, law firms and legal associations.
“Since announcing the closures, we have heard from our clients who were distraught about the prospect of facing the justice system alone. The response we’ve seen from lawyers demonstrates decisively that the legal profession cares and is committed to access to justice,” said Pro Bono executive director Lynn Burns in a statement. “We are profoundly grateful for the opportunity to keep fighting for unrepresented litigants.”
According to a Pro Bono press release, the centres served almost 19,000 clients last year. The charity said it is committed to finding a long-term solution to keeping the centres open beyond 2019.
“This buys us a year to secure stable institutional funding. The profession, from new calls (to the bar) to the current and former chief justices of Canada, has made clear that it wants to ensure the survival of these important programs,” said Pro Bono chair Guy Pratte in a statement.
“We intend to spend the next 12 months working with stakeholders, including the Law Society of Ontario, to achieve this goal.”
Jacques Gallant is a Toronto-based reporter covering legal affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @JacquesGallant