FOLA has long believed that a sustainable, appropriately and adequately funded legal aid system is critical to the efficient, effective and just functioning of Ontario’s justice system.
Ontario has one of the best legal aid systems in the world, but it is far from perfect and FOLA is actively involved in a number of initiatives to make the system better for both low-income clients who use the system and the lawyers who utilize funding from Legal Aid.
In light of the economic hardships created by the COVID-19 outbreak, the Alliance for Sustainable Legal Aid (ASLA) wrote to the Attorney General on April 28th request support for additional funding for Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) . Read our letter here.
**LEGAL AID SERVICES ACT UPDATE**
In the Fall of 2019, FOLA’s Legal Aid Committee met with the Alliance on Sustainable Legal Aid (ASLA) during our review phase of Bill 161. Learn more about the review process on the Legal Aid Services Act.
**C-75 BILLING UPDATE**
As you may know, a number of offences that used to be straight indictable are now hybridized, and there is a new maximum presumptive penalty of two years (up from six months) for most summary charges. As a result, LAO has made some billing changes:
Legal Aid Online updates to reflect Bill C-75 amendments to Criminal Code
Bill C-75 amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada include the hybridization of about 118 straight indictable offences, and standardization of a new maximum term of imprisonment for the majority of summary conviction offences to two years, less a day.
Legal Aid Online has been updated to reflect the following changes
Updates apply to certificates issued before and after September 19, 2019.
LAO will not seek to recover overpayments for newly hybridized matters that proceed by summary conviction and that were billed as indictment prior to the Legal Aid Online updates.
Offences now exempt from block fees will remain so.
Summary conviction block fee rates are based on the maximum term of imprisonment: where the maximum term was six months prior to C-75, the Summary I rate is payable; where it was greater than six months, the Summary II rate is payable.
LAO recognizes that the amendments to the Criminal Code that standardize the maximum term of imprisonment for most summary conviction matters effectively eliminate the justification for two block fee rates.
LAO will, in consultation with the bar, set a cost-neutral single block fee rate. Until this rate has been determined, summary conviction block fees will be paid at current rates.
Questions? Contact the Lawyer Service Centre at 1-866-979-9934.
**UPDATE REGRADING FAMILY LAW LEGAL AID – FEBRUARY 2020**
As of February 3, 2020, LAO’s Family Case Management program is expanding to include:
This is in addition to helping lawyers manage costly and complex CYFSA‑extended society care matters likely to cost more than $8,000—the program’s previous focus.
The expanded program will ensure more family cases are eligible for budgets on costly cases and proceedings. Lawyers are to apply to the program if the hours under the tariff are not sufficient, and they predict that their budget will exceed $12K or $8K for family/domestic or child protection cases respectively.
Extended society care matters are eligible for case management where the certificate was issued prior to February 3, 2020. All other CYFSA and domestic family certificates issued on or after February 3 are eligible for case management.
The pilot will be evaluated after three years
**UPDATE REGRADING REFUGEE LEGAL AID – AUGUST 2019**
Further to the federal government’s August 12, 2019 announcement of $25.7 million in one-time funding for immigration and refugee services, Legal Aid Ontario has restored services in these areas for the remainder of the fiscal year.
Legal aid coverage for immigration and refugee services has resumed at levels offered prior to April 15, 2019, when certain services were suspended.
For Refugee Protection Division matters, while coverage remains the same, the way LAO authorizes it has changed for an interim period. LAO will now issue a Basis of Claim-alone certificate and a second nine-hour certificate for the RPD hearing. Clients who received a BOC preparation-only certificate between April 15, 2019 and August 16, 2019, are also be eligible for a hearing certificate.
This is very good news and allows LAO to restore immigration and refugee services for the remainder of the year, while they continue to advocate for stable funding.
**CHANGES TO LAO’s DISTRICT STRUCTURE & TO THE REGIONAL SERVICES DIVISION – SEPT 2019**
**IMPORTANT UPDATES TO THE CERTIFICATE POLICIES & PROGRAMS – JUNE 2019**
**CHANGES TO LEGAL AID ONTARIO’s FAMILY AND CRIMINAL DUTY COUNSEL PROGRAMS – JUNE 2019**
REVIEW OF THE LEGAL AID SERVICES ACT
Over the summer of 2019, FOLA, as part of the Alliance for Sustainable Legal Aid (ASLA) reviewed the Legal Aid Services Act (LASA) and we continue to monitor this file.
CALL FOR COMMENT – SHORT-TERM PRO BONO LEGAL SERVICES RULES
In the spring of 2019, the Law Society sought input on proposed amendments to the lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct, which would extend the modified conflict of interest standard in the short-term pro bono legal services rules to Legal Aid Ontario lawyers, who provide short-term pro bono legal services.
They also sought input on whether the short-term pro bono legal services rules should be expanded to include other not-for-profit service providers. Currently, only lawyers who provide services through a Pro Bono Ontario program are exempt from performing conflict of interest searches when providing pro bono services.
You can read FOLA’s submission here.
You can read TLA’s submission to the LSO Professional Regulation Committee here.
FOLA’s Legal Aid Committee & ASLA
FOLA has an active Legal Aid Committee, currently chaired by FOLA executive member Terry Brandon, and is involved with the Alliance for Sustainable Legal Aid (ASLA) which has been the primary vehicle for interested legal organizations to lobby for more funds to service more of the population.
In the April 2019 Ontario Budget, Legal Aid funding cut nearly 30% ($133 million). It was also announced that the organization could no longer use provincial funds for refugee and immigration cases.
FOLA is working aggressively with all ASLA members to ensure that these cuts do not impact front line services. Together, we have written formal letters requesting meetings with the Attorney General of Ontario (one letter regarding the cuts in general and one letter regarding the cuts to refugee funding), the federal Minister of Justice, and the Chair of Legal Aid Ontario. Updates will be forthcoming.
The members of ASLA are:
Legal Aid Deficit
In December 2016, FOLA and other stakeholders learned that Legal Aid Ontario was facing a $26 million deficit as a result of higher than anticipated up-take on the expanded services first introduced in 2015. FOLA responded to this news in which we expressed our concern with this development and with the potential impact it might have to clients and to the certificate-bar system in Ontario.
The Attorney General also commissioned a review of Legal Aid to determine if there were steps to take to avoid the same problems in the future. The results of this review can be found at this link.
Looking forward, FOLA will continue to work with Legal Aid Ontario and other stakeholders to strive for an adequately funded legal aid system that maintains the private bar at the centre of the legal aid system. This means we will continue to work through ASLA and undertake our own advocacy efforts.
The relationship between the Private Bar and Legal Aid Ontario
The relationship between the private bar and Legal Aid Ontario has, over time, been a fractious one, but FOLA has attempted to take constructive steps to improve this relationship and to ensure the avenue of communication is always open between LAO and the bar. At nearly every Plenary meeting, LAO participates in panel discussions; FOLA regularly provides updates on LAO activities to its members; and, if problems arise, FOLA engages with senior executives of LAO to address issues and find solutions.
FOLA also strives to invite LAO representatives to its bi-annual plenary meetings as often as possible to facilitate an ongoing dialogue between LAO and the practicing bar.
If members of the private bar encounter specific problems or issues with LAO, they are encouraged to contact Katie Robinette, Executive Director (email@example.com) directly so the issues can be dealt with quickly.