LAO Newsroom

Responses to recent media enquiries

LAO Newsroom

Legal aid in Northeastern Ontario

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Legal Aid Ontario provided information to the North Bay Nugget in response to a media enquiry received April 12, 2010. What follows is LAO's responses to the North Bay Nuggets questions for the article 'Dismantling' legal aid that was published on April 14th 2010


Response

Ive learned that all of the area directors in Northeastern Ontario have been terminated and replaced by Louise Huneault who will oversee legal aid in North Bay, Parry Sound, Sault Ste. Marie, Manitoulin/Sudbury and Timmins. Is this correct?

Yes, LAO has implemented a district model to improve the coordination and accountability of legal aid services by restructuring the traditional area office model of 51 independent offices into 9 larger districts. As a result LOA will enhance client service via new technology and reduce overall administrative costs by more than $20 million in 2010-11.

The new Northeast District office will act as the district hub and support service providers, manage client services and build partnerships with local justice stakeholders in Northeastern Ontario. Louise Huneault is the District Area Director for the Northeast District and oversees all legal aid services with in North Bay, Timiskaming, Sault Ste. Marie, and the districts of Sudbury-Manitoulin and Timmins-Cochrane. Having one director manage one larger district also provides more flexibility and consistency in meeting client needs.

Additionally there is an LAO district administrator for the Northeast District, who is located in North Bay.


What happens to the area legal aid committees in Northeastern Ontario?
What happens to appeals at the local level?

Area Committees will be changing to improve client service. As part of LAOs wider modernization strategy, the role of area committees will be evolving to ensure services are responsive and timely for clients, more cost effective, make greater use of technology and streamlining administration. LAO is currently working on a number of area committee reforms, which include centralizing area committee functions so that appeals are processed quickly and more consistently.

Legal Aid Ontario has a pilot project underway to test a new appeals model. As part of the pilot, the members of the area committees in Parry Sound, Muskoka and Simcoe County amalgamated to form the new Central District Area Committee. During the pilot, appeals will have a shorter turnaround time cases will be considered within three days of receipt so clients whose appeals are unsuccessful may be directed to other resources as quickly as possible. Meetings will be held twice weekly to ensure that there is enough time to hear and make decisions on each appeal.

LAO is moving toward more technology-based practices and as a result, meetings will now be held by telephone conference call. Clients will receive assistance in completing their appeals documents, but will no longer be required to attend meetings. To further promote efficiency, LAO will make all documents available to area committee members through electronically.

So far the preliminary results and the feedback from members of the first three District Area Committees meetings have been very positive.


Ive learned that three full-time staff at the Main Street West office are being replaced by one part-time staff once the courthouse office is opened. Is this correct?

It is LAOs policy to not discus specific staffing information out of respect for our staff. As LAO continues moving forward with modernization and expanding client access points, the functions of some positions will change, some positions will no longer be required, and some new positions will be needed.

The new LAO office in the North Bay courthouse is still under construction. Until construction is complete, a Legal Aid Ontario staff person will be available for clients in the in the courthouse from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Additionally, clients who need to speak with a legal aid representative in person can do so at the Legal Aid Ontario office at 375 Main Street West from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., -- Monday to Friday.

Clients can access a full-range of legal aid services over the phone, including applying for certificates. The toll-free number is 1-800-668-8258 press 0. No coins required from a payphone and LAO accepts collect calls. The number also provides access to other legal aid services such as summary family legal advice from a lawyer for eligible clients, general information, and referrals to other social service agencies. All of these services are available in 120 languages.

Following the completion of the Legal Aid Ontario office in the North Bay courthouse, clients will be able to apply for legal aid services at the same time they attend for their court appearance. Our court-based office will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday.

Having an office at the courthouse is a convenient way to assist people when and where they need help. Clients who are in court can quickly travel down the hall to apply for legal aid, rather than having to leave the courthouse, and having to return to court on another day.

Our legal aid office on Main Street is generally open five days a week, but in cases where closing the office is unavoidable due to employee illness or similar circumstances, our toll-free number will be a primary point of contact for clients in North Bay.


Ive learned that two full-time duty counsel (one for criminal matters, one for family matters) will now have to do financial screening. Is this correct?

There has always been a financial test applied by duty counsel, a pilot is underway to simplify this process.

LAO is piloting a new income based Simplified Financial Eligibility Test (SFET) in a number of locations across the province to improve client service, fast-track the process where possible and reduce red tape by:

  • Providing clients with faster decision on their eligibility for legal aid so they can begin moving forward with their legal matter
  • Making it easier for clients and other service providers to understand fincial eligibility criteria
  • Reducing the amount of supporting documentation clients are required to provide to support their application
  • Improving the consistency of decision-making on legal aid applications

During the pilot, clients applying for legal aid are approved using the Simplified Eligibility Test. Client applications that do not meet the SFET criteria are completed using LAOs existing financial test.

The financial criteria to qualify for Legal Aid Ontario certificate for the Simplified Fincial Eligibility Test pilot are:

Family Size

Income less than

1

$12,000

2

$14,939

3

$18,366

4

$22,298

5 or more

$25,291


Will legal aid still conduct a means test to determine eligibility?

As previously mentioned, Legal Aid Ontario is currently piloting a simplified financial test, which will reduce red tape and help clients get the help they need, faster.


When will the legal aid office at the courthouse open?
Please clarify the hours of operation for the legal aid office at the courthouse.

The new LAO office in the North Bay courthouse is still under construction. Until construction is complete, a Legal Aid Ontario staff person will be available for clients in the in the courthouse from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Additionally, clients who need to speak with a legal aid representative in person can do so at the Legal Aid Ontario office at 375 Main Street West from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday.

Clients can access a full-range of legal aid services over the phone, including applying for certificates. The toll-free number is 1-800-668-8258 press 0. No coins are required from a payphone and Legal Aid Ontario accepts collect calls. The number also provides access to other legal aid services such as summary family legal advice from a lawyer for eligible clients, general information, and referrals to other social service agencies. All of these services are available in 120 languages.

Following the completion of the Legal Aid Ontario office in the North Bay courthouse, clients will be able to apply for legal aid services at the same time they attend for their court appearance. Our court-based office will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday. LAOs court-based location is also in line with the provinces Justice On Target strategy to reduce court delays by 30 per cent.


Does legal aid want to make additional comments?

On April 7th 2010, LAO extended and invitation to meet with North Bay judges and members of the local law association to talk about the significant improvements LAO is making to services for clients in the North Bay area. A meeting has been set up to meet with judges on April 26th, 2010.

A follow-up email was sent to the local law association on Friday April 9th, 2010. LAO has yet to receive a response.

Additionally, a letter was sent to local stakeholders advising them of the improvements to service delivery and LAO locations and office hours.

It's part of LAOs mandate to provide high quality and cost-efficient legal aid services, and for the past several years we've been looking at ways to incorporate technology and streamline our administration to improve services for clients and provide greater value for taxpayers.

LAO is working to streamline the client application process, so that we can focus on providing direct legal aid services such as duty counsel, and summary legal advice over the phone. Legal Aid Ontario is offering more services and assistance over the phone than was available at the local office, including summary legal advice for family and criminal law.

Clients have been telling us for years that they want the convenience of getting legal advice and information and applying for legal aid certificate coverage over the phone, as it eliminates the challenges posed by transportation issues, and language barriers. When Ontarians call the toll-free number, theyre connected to legal aid staff located in communities across the province including North Bay -- who can assess the persons situation, and connect them with the right legal aid resource.

LAO has also simplified the application process through SOAP (Simplified Online Application Portal). This process targets the more than 50 per cent of our clients who are clearly eligible for legal aid because of their financial and legal situation. The SOAP process reduces the application time by 62 per cent, so clients receive the legal aid help they need, faster.

Some of our other initiatives include:

Increased online information and resources for clients
We have redesigned and re-launched our website (www.legalaid.on.ca), introducing changes to make the site more user-friendly. The revised site provides access to information about legal aid services, and other online resources and information. Since launching the site in late November, the site has had more than 175,500 visitors, and three quarters of a million page views.


More payment methods for clients
Legal Aid Ontario clients with contribution agreements no longer need to visit a legal aid office to make payments. Instead, payments can now be made at any bank location in Ontario. Clients do not need to have a bank account, and there is no fee for making a payment. This alternative also saves a trip to a legal aid office.


Improvements for legal aid lawyers
LAO has introduced a number of enhancements for legal aid lawyers to make it easier or them to do business with LAO, including online billing and website tools that expedite the certificate acknowledgment process (which confirms a clients' status and authorizes lawyers doing work on behalf of legal aid clients to begin working on a case). These processes are all done online, so that lawyers no longer have to contact or request confirmation from a legal aid office.


For more information

For more information please contact:

Kristian Justesen
Manager, Communications and Media Relations
Email: justesk@lao.on.ca