In 1998, the Ontario government enacted the Legal Aid Services Act in which the province renewed and strengthened its commitment to legal aid. The Act established Legal Aid Ontario (LAO), an independent but publicly funded and publicly accountable non-profit corporation, to administer the province's legal aid program.
Legal Aid Ontario has a statutory mandate to promote access to justice throughout Ontario for low-income individuals by means of:
In fulfilling this mandate Legal Aid Ontario is committed to providing services which recognize the importance of diversity, access, equity, creativity and quality.
To ensure that healthy communities include responsive and meaningful legal aid services and improved access to justice.
We act with integrity and we assume that others do so.
We practice respect in all relationships.
We are responsive to clients, stakeholders and staff. We treat people in an equitable way, recognizing their needs.
We strive for excellence and continuous quality improvement. We aim to attract and retain the best employees.
We are an independent part of the justice system.
We are accountable to the government, clients, stakeholders and staff.
We are open and consultative in decision-making.
We are consistent in our processes and decision-making. We create unity across the organization. We make decisions on the basis of facts and sound principles.
LAO's mandate in the Legal Aid Services Act, 1998 is to "promote access to justice throughout Ontario for low-income individuals by means of providing consistently high quality legal aid services in a cost-effective and efficient manner."
Our clients have one thing in common - they are people with low or no income. Every day LAO helps almost 4,000 disadvantaged people, including single parents seeking child support from delinquent ex-partners; victims of domestic violence; parents seeking custody of children to protect them from abuse; injured workers; refugees; and accused persons.
Only people meeting strict financial eligibility limits receive legal aid. Wherever possible clients are asked to contribute toward the cost of their legal fees. In 2003, this amounted to over $13 million.
LAO services are carefully targeted to meet diverse client needs and make the most efficient use of our resources.
A wide range of services are available through LAO’s toll-free number, including summary legal advice for family and criminal law matters.
We provide duty counsel services - performed by staff and private-sector lawyers - for people who arrive in criminal, family or youth courts without a lawyer.
Poverty law services - such as helping people to obtain or maintain social assistance benefits - are delivered through a network of a number of independent, community-based legal aid clinics, funded by LAO.
LAO also runs a certificate program for the most serious and complex cases. Eligible low-income clients can obtain a certificate which is used to retain a private lawyer.
The duty counsel and certificate programs simply couldn't work without the support and commitment of Ontario's private-sector lawyers. LAO provides the funding and other support, while some 4,000 private lawyers contribute to legal aid by accepting reduced rates and limits on billable hours for the legal services they give to clients.
For more info on LAO check out our Fact Sheets section
Myths & realities
Find out the facts behind some of the most commonly discussed myths and realities surrounding LAO’s services and operations.