The Ontario Civil Legal Needs Project released a report today, Listening to Ontarians, funded by the Law Society of Upper Canada, Legal Aid Ontario and Pro Bono Law Ontario. The study focused on middle-to-low-income populations, defined as a household income of under $75,000.
Tracey Tyler provides a summary of the report at The Star.
The study shows that one-third of those interviewed had a legal problem in the preceding year, with low-income populations facing the greatest hurdles,
While the rate of incidence of legal problems within this group was consistent with Ontarians in the total survey group, people earning less than $20,000 were most likely to report a higher incidence of legal problems in certain areas. Family relationship problems remained the top problem. Following this were criminal problems, disability-related issues, and welfare or social assistance issues. [p. 33]
The report predicts that the number of self-represented litigants who cannot afford counsel will grow in future years [p. 43]. But a number of Ontario residents, especially middle-aged populations, are turning to the Internet for legal solutions [p. 50]. Up to 84 per cent of those studied still had Internet access, despite having limited other resources [p. 58].
Internet use in providing legal information is highlighted,
The Internet is already an important means to convey legal information and resources. For example, CLEOnet, a project of Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO), makes available an online collection of legal information and resources produced by community agencies and community legal clinics across Ontario. Technology creates opportunities beyond the transmission of legal information. For example, Law Help Ontario provides access to an online document assembly program that allows litigants to complete their court forms quickly and accurately. A total of 6,536 court forms were generated through this service in pilot period. [p. 5]
The study finds that many of the populations affected do not necessarily even want a lawyer, but just want legal information. Unbundled legal services might be the solution, but education is needed about the advantages and disadvantages of using them [pp. 56-57].