Providing equal access to justice for low-income people has been the guiding principle for legal aid services in Ontario.
- Ontario first implemented an organized legal aid plan for criminal cases in 1951, with lawyers providing assistance on a volunteer basis.
- By 1963, the Ontario government and the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) decided that the voluntary plan was inadequate to meet the demand for legal aid and that it made excessive demands on volunteer lawyers.
- In 1967, the Ontario Legal Aid Plan (OLAP) was created based on the plans operating in England and Scotland. It was funded by the provincial government and managed by the LSUC.
- Community legal clinics were first established in the early 1970's to provide legal services, public legal education and community development for low-income people.
- Clinics address specific legal needs of low-income people who need help with the essentials of life such as safe housing and subsistence income.
- Until the 1980's the main focus of OLAP had been criminal law. Between 1980 and 1990, OLAP considerably expanded clinic, family, refugee, mental health and aboriginal services.
- Funding for the clinic system was frozen in 1992 even though large areas of the province were without clinic law services.
- In 1994, the Ontario government capped funding for the certificate program and certificate services dropped greatly.