LAO newsroom: Media enquiries

LAO Newsroom

LAO reponds to story regarding LAO Duty Counsel services

Posted: Friday, September 5, 2014

LAO provided the following response to a recent story in Law Times regarding LAO's Duty Counsel services.

Letter: LAO Duty Counsel Services

In your recent story “CLA concerned about duty counsel expansion”, the CLA’s comments do not reflect LAO’s role and mandate to provide legal Aid services that are responsive to the needs to low-income Ontarians and provide for the effective use of limited taxpayers’ dollars.

The Criminal Lawyers' Association mistakenly criticizes LAO for relying on duty counsel to deliver high-quality, cost-effective criminal legal aid services. LAO has done a financial analysis of per diem duty counsel positions in various courthouses. In areas where it makes financial sense, LAO will be hiring staff lawyers to replace per diems.

Duty counsel have been a fundamental component of the criminal justice system in Ontario for almost 50 years. Duty Counsel represent low-income people who are not eligible for certificates in courthouses across the province. In some cases, these clients earn more than certificate program’s financial threshold, or their legal issue is not covered by the certificate program. In all cases, duty counsel are required to provide effective and competent representation and to act in accordance with the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Let’s put things into perspective: LAO’s duty counsel program has always been a small fraction of LAO’s budget. It is true that LAO has hired more duty counsel and 6 Senior Counsel Lawyers across Ontario in recent years. By way of comparison, there are 4000 private bar lawyers who do certificate work in Ontario and LAO paid those lawyers more than $181 million in 2013 to provide private bar services to low-income Ontarians. Nor did the CLA mention that between January 2010 and April 2015, the hourly tariff paid to private lawyers will increase between 41% and 66%. It is important to note that the majority of LAO’s new hires provide family duty counsel services. These duty counsel have helped LAO expand its services to unrepresented litigants in family courts.

More importantly for clients, the Government of Ontario has committed to raising the income eligibility threshold to quality for legal aid assistance to the level of Statistics Canada’s Low Income Measure (LIM) within 10 years, doubling the number of people eligible for legal aid services. This includes an increase in funding to LAO of $95 million over the next three years.

Kristian Justesen
Director, Communications and Stakeholders Relations Group
Legal Aid Ontario