Responses to recent media enquiries
Response to questions about LAO's block fees pilot
February 1, 2011
LAO provided information to the Law Times in response to an enquiry received January 17, 2011
Is there any data you can share with me on it?
LAO is pleased with the success of the block fee pilot including the significant uptake by the private bar and the ongoing support and feedback of the CLA. Since launching the block fee pilot in May 2010, LAO has issued more than 10,000 block fee eligible certificates to more than 1,200 criminal lawyers. These lawyers represent about 41 per cent of all criminal legal aid lawyers throughout the province.
Have any more offences been added to the list covered by block fees since the last amendment in August?
There are 27 charges included in the block fee pilot. No new charges have been added to the list of charges covered by the block fee pilot since September 2010, when the list was narrowed based on feedback from the CLA.
What have you learned so far from the pilot?
The block fee pilot provides a great opportunity for LAO and lawyers accepting block fee certificates to learn more about the program, identify potential issues, and consult with stakeholders. Since launching the pilot in May 2010, some of the valuable lessons learned include:
- Effectively administering a block fee program: since the roll-out, we have made a number of tweaks to our billing system and reporting tools to better support the program
- Effect of block fees on vulnerable clients, particularly those with mental health issues: LAO has consulted with criminal mental health lawyers to assist with the development of enhancements for lawyers who provide services for clients with mental health issues.
- Interim billing: based on feedback from stakeholders during the early stages of the block fee pilot, LAO introduced interim billing for block fee certificates in December 2010. This allows lawyers to interim bill through the Legal Aid Online billing portal on certificates for matters known to be proceeding by indictment and on summary conviction trials. Previously, lawyers were prohibited from interim billing on all block fee charges.
Identifying these and other lessons learned during the pilot phase of the block fee program will help contribute towards the successful deployment of the full block fee schedule.
When is phase 2 scheduled to start - and can you tell me what new matters will be covered and at what rates?
The full block fee schedule will be implemented as soon as practically possible. It is a priority for us and we’re working as quickly as possible to analyse the data from the pilot so that we can move to phase 2.
In the meantime, LAO will to continue to consult with the CLA on how to improve the block fee program.
Are you happy with the level of consultation with the CLA
Yes. LAO appreciates the level of cooperation, commitment, and wealth of practical knowledge demonstrated by the CLA towards block fees and other MOU related topics. The thoughtful and thorough feedback from the CLA will help inform LAO’s final decisions on the full block fee program.
Block fees Background Information
In May 2010, LAO introduced a block fee pilot program for private bar lawyers who provide services for Legal Aid Ontario clients. The first phase of the block fees rollout was a “learning” phase, which was intended to help LAO and lawyers better understand the benefits and challenges of block fees for clients, the bar, LAO, and the criminal justice system in general.
Block fees do not take away hours or reduce payments to lawyers. LAO’s rate for block fees includes a calculation on all fees and discretion historically paid for most tariff enhancements available on summary matters.
The block fees paid for guilty pleas and stays/withdrawals are calculated at 95 per cent of the average cost that LAO pays for these types of cases. The remaining 5 per cent will be paid out to fund additional criminal law services for LAO’s most vulnerable clients, including aboriginal clients and clients with serious mental health issues, and to provide a slight buffer to ensure that the program remains within budget.
Funding for block fees was calculated to incorporate the first two tariff increases set out in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Ministry of the Attorney General, the Criminal Lawyers’ Association and Legal Aid Ontario. The MOU provides for five additional rate increases on block fees. Over this period, the fees for a guilty plea and withdrawals will increase more than 27 per cent resulting in fees of approximately $870 for pleas and $1,200 for withdrawals.
For more information
For more information on block fees, please visit our website at www.legalaid.on.ca/en/news/newsarchive/1012-15_blockfeeschanges.asp.