Information for lawyers

Big Case Management

The Big Case Management (BCM) program governs the most expensive and complex criminal trial defences Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) funds.

Under the BCM program, LAO may set budgets for complex criminal cases expected to cost more than $20,000. In these cases, LAO establishes individual budgets rather than using its standard tariff system to determine the maximum hours available to counsel.

LAO's legislated guidelines provide big case management for criminal matters in the following circumstances:

  • Complex cases where the total fees and disbursements are anticipated to exceed $20,000
  • Murder cases (first or second degree murder charge) where the total fees and disbursements are anticipated to exceed $30,000
  • Complex cases with multiple accused where the collective fees and disbursements are anticipated to exceed $50,000

Goals of Big Case Management

The goals of the BCM program are to:

  • monitor and control case costs, in accordance with the standard of a reasonable client of modest means;
  • increase predictability of case cost;
  • provide lawyers with appropriate resources to manage complex cases;
  • ensure that the criminal bar is adequately compensated for accepting certificates for big cases;
  • develop and maintain a framework of accountability and consistency.

BCM application process and guidelines

When to apply for Big Case Management

If you anticipate any of the following:

  • a case is likely to exceed $20,000
  • the preliminary hearing is likely to exceed two weeks.

Budget requests must be made to the Big Case Management department in advance of each proceeding and with reasonable notice. Budgets will not be set retroactively.

How to apply

Lawyers seeking a Big Case budget must complete the trial opinion guideline form or the Preliminary hearing opinion guideline form. Please use the preliminary hearing opinion guideline form for sentencing and dangerous offender hearings. You can use either form to apply for co‑counsel, but these requests are granted only in exceptional circumstances.

Please note that all information disclosed in the opinion letter, and discussions between the case manager and counsel in the BCM meeting, are treated as confidential, and are protected by solicitor client privilege.

Application process

  • Once the BCM office has reviewed your request, a case manager will contact you to schedule a budget meeting.
  • After the meeting, the decision regarding the budget and the acceptance of the matter into BCM is given to counsel in writing. Until confirmation is received in writing, the regular tariff maximums apply.
  • There is no appeal from a refusal of admission into BCM. You are entitled to re‑apply if there is a change in circumstance.

BCM guidelines

  • The BCM budget does not supersede basic tariff provisions such as the hourly rate for lawyers, the limit of billing to 10 hours per service provider per calendar day, or restrictions on travel within the GTA. Please note that the annual billing limit of 2,350 also applies to BCM matters.
  • If a case is accepted into the BCM program, you will be provided with a number of hours to prepare for the proceeding. Per diem hours will be allocated for preparation during the proceeding. Any questions about the budget should be brought to the attention of the case manager.
  • A case manager will confirm the budget in writing. Please note that LAO will not pay more than the budget, and will only amend in exceptional and unforeseen circumstances.
  • Bring any changes in circumstance to the case manager attention as soon as they arise. LAO does not set retroactive budgets.
  • Before you submit your accounts, be sure to clearly indicate the type of proceeding, the type of preparation hours and the time spent in court for the proceeding.
  • If you are unsatisfied with the budget, you can write a letter of appeal to the president of Legal Aid Ontario, (copied to the director, Big Case Management)
  • Make any further requests for disbursement authorizations to the BCM program.

Exceptions committee

A budget that is likely to exceed $75,000, may be sent to an exceptions committee for review. An exceptions committee is composed of LAO staff and highly respected private bar lawyers with expertise in conducting large cases.

The committee considers any written materials and oral submissions and makes budgetary recommendations to LAO. LAO will consider the recommendations and make the final decision.

Big Case Management for appeals

Although the $20,000 threshold applies, Big Case Management for appeals to the Ontario Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada has a separate process.

If you believe a matter is likely to qualify, forward a letter to LAO's provincial office to the attention of Big Case Management Appeals. The letter should set out the details concerning the appeal and include the length of the original trial. It should also include supporting documentation such as the original opinion letter, and appropriate time requirements to complete the appeal.