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Provincial Government invest $51 Million...

Backgrounder

Posted on: July 19 /07

LAO will receive $15 million in 2007-2008, $17 million in 2008-2009, and $19 million in 2009-2010 for a total three-year investment of $51 million.

LAO's base will be $19 million more in 2009 -2010 than it was in 2006-2007.

Improving Access to Justice: 5% Increase to the Legal Aid Tariff

$19.57 million allocated for the increase

An increase in the legal aid tariff is about ensuring that when low-income Ontarians qualify for legal aid services, they are able to find a competent, qualified lawyer to take on their case. This in turn means that legal needs are addressed more comprehensively, and at an earlier stage, before problems become more complex.

The five percent tariff increase makes legal aid work more financially feasible for lawyers and helps ensure that there are qualified legal aid lawyers available to help low-income people who require legal assistance.

Legal Aid Ontario Certificate Program
One of the ways that Legal Aid Ontario provides services to low-income Ontarians is through the legal aid certificate system. Individuals who meet LAO's financial eligibility criteria apply to LAO for a legal aid certificate, which the individual then presents to a private bar lawyer. If that lawyer takes the client's case, LAO will pay the lawyer an hourly rate based upon the legal aid tariff.

Level New Rate Old Rate
Tier 1 (less than 4 years experience) $77.56 $73.87
Tier 2 (4 to 9 years experience) $87.26 $83.10
Tier 3 (10 or more years experience) $96.95 $92.34
Lawyers in remote northern areas will continue to receive 10% Northern Incentive Fee.

Duty Counsel
Clients may seek the assistance of duty counsel working in courtrooms throughout the province. Many duty counsel are private bar lawyers who do legal aid work at the tariff rate on a per diem basis.

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Articling Students

$780,000 to double the rate

Increasing the articling student rate paid to lawyers and firms that hire articling students will improve the financial capacity of lawyers who provide legal services, many of whom are sole practitioners or from small firms, to retain articling students. This encourages a new generation of lawyers to join firms or establish practices that include a legal aid component.

New Articling Rate: $46.00 per hour

Law Society of Upper Canada's Sole Practitioner and Small Firm Task Force Report

  • 37% of sole practitioners and small firms do legal aid work
  • Sole practitioners and small firms are older, with an average age of 49 years

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Exemption of Universal Child Care Benefit

$300,000 allocated to exempt UCCB from income calculations

The exemption of the Universal Child Care Benefit as income is in line with the government's policy of ensuring that Provincial programs exempt these benefits as income.

Universal Child Care Benefit
In 2006 the federal government introduced a new Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB) in the amount of $100 per month per child. This benefit is for all income levels, and is paid to the lower income spouse. The province has exempted this benefit as income for its programs.

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Develop New Financial Eligibility Test

$100,000 in funding to develop a simplified eligibility test

The financial eligibility test for clients has not been reviewed for nearly a decade and is no longer in step with government assistance programs. LAO will develop a new financial eligibility test to determine the appropriate poverty benchmark against which to assess LAO clients, and to develop a new simplified test that balances simplicity with fairness to individual applicants.

This initiative will also determine the eligibility criteria levels, which LAO will be able to afford under its current budget, and options for expanding the proportion of the population that is potentially eligible for LAO services.

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Increasing Services for Families

$3.6 million for increased annual allocation of family certificates
$1 million for additional reserve certificates

Each year, thousands of people turn to Legal Aid Ontario for help with family issues. This includes women and children living in situations of domestic violence, child custody issues, and spousal support. Legal Aid Ontario is increasing the number of family certificates issued annually by 750. In addition, Legal Aid Ontario has allocated one time funding for a pool of 500 'reserve' family certificates to deal with fluctuations in demand for family law services over the next three years.

Year New Certificates
2007 750
2008 750
2009 750


2250
+ 'reserve' family certificates 500


2750 new family certificates

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Big Case Management

$15 million investment

There has been an increase in the number of large, complex cases involving multiple accused. Hand in hand with this increase is a need to ensure that when charges are laid, legal aid is available.

In order to meet the demand for legal aid coverage in complex and costly criminal trials, LAO is investing $5 million annually into its Big Case Management program. This investment will ensure that adequate resources are available to provide legal coverage for these types of cases without jeopardizing other legal aid services.

Big Case Management Program
The program allows lawyers and LAO staff to discuss preparation time needed and the expected length of trial in order to determine an appropriate budget for individual big cases. The goals of the program are to monitor, control, and increase predictability of case cost while ensuring lawyers have appropriate financial resources to provide effective, high quality legal services.

LAO sets budgets for criminal cases expected to cost more than $20,000, murder cases expected to cost over $30,000, and cases with multiple accused expected to cost more than $50,000 in total.

Cases expected to cost more than $75,000 are referred to the Exceptions Committee. The committee, composed of experienced private bar lawyers and LAO staff, considers the need to have budgets set above the $75,000 ceiling for exceptional cases. Based on the information presented and the expertise of the committee, the Exceptions Committee makes a recommendation to the case manager concerning an appropriate budget for a case.

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Improving Aboriginal Services

$50,000 committed for study

Aboriginal people represent 2.6% of Canadian adults yet they make up 21% of adults in jail, 19% of people given a conditional sentence and 16% of those on probation.

A long-term strategic plan will be developed that commits LAO to achieve improvements to legal aid services geared to the unique needs of Aboriginal people across the province.

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Improving Access to Poverty Law services: Increasing Funding for Community Legal Clinics

$10.5 million earmarked for improvements

Community legal clinics throughout Ontario serve low-income individuals in a number of areas, such as housing and income security. Clinics also engage in law reform activities and systemic responses to issues facing low-income Ontarians. Specialty clinics assist particular communities and groups, such as people living with HIV or AIDS, injured workers and the elderly. They help to build strong communities by giving a voice to some of Ontario's most vulnerable citizens.

Clinic Law Services
Community legal clinics are independent, non-profit organizations that are governed by locally elected Boards of Directors, and receive funding from Legal Aid Ontario.

Legal Aid Ontario is investing more than $10 million in community legal clinics over the next three years. This funding is going to a number of initiatives and programs including:

  • Retaining the Best: Increasing Clinic Salaries
  • Improving French language services
  • Increase operating budgets
  • Improving Aboriginal Services
  • Implementation of an information management system
  • Additional funding for Interpretation and Translation Services

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Provide Stable funding for South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario (SALCO)

$1.36 million allocated for stable three year funding for SALCO, $300,000 in the first year, $521,00,000 in the second year and $538,000 in the third year.

The most recent data shows that while 12% of Toronto families live below the poverty line, nearly 35% of South Asian families in the city are living in poverty. The South Asian population in Toronto doubled between 1991 and 2001 from 235,500 to 473,800, making it the fastest growing minority group in the city. To meet the need for culturally and linguistically sensitive services for South Asian families, LAO will provide stable operational funding for SALCO.

Moving from project-specific funding to ongoing operational funding will allow SALCO to focus more of its energies on client service rather than fundraising, and it will be financially stable enough to devote energy to more long-term systemic work that ultimately serves more people, and does so more efficiently.

Retaining The Best: Increasing Clinic Salaries

$3.3 million allocated for 3% salary increases

Employees of community legal clinics do not receive automatic or step cost of living increases, nor do they routinely receive performance pay, as do many of their public sector counterparts.

Lower clinic salaries that are out of step with other similar public sector compensation rates make it increasingly difficult to attract and retain quality service providers. The Government's new funding will allow for a three percent pay increase to ensure that clinic salary levels do not compromise important poverty law services for low-income Ontarians.

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Improving French Language Services

$950,000 for expanded French legal services

LAO has earmarked nearly one million dollars of the new funding to build upon the existing capacity of community legal clinics to provide services to the Francophone community.

Over the next three years, Legal Aid Ontario will examine a number of options for increasing legal aid services for Ontario's French speaking community including:

  • Add additional bilingual staff in designated French areas
  • Increase the amount of French language public legal information that is available
  • Provide additional French-language training for clinic employees
  • Bolster existing French-language service resources

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Increasing Clinic Operating Expenditure Budgets

$3.3 million for increased operating budgets

Clinics have not had an increase to their core operational budgets in several years. During this time, the cost of core operating expenses, such as heat, hydro and leasing costs have been increasing steadily. The Consumer Price Index for Canada has increased 11.7% in the past five years. An increase in operational funding would go towards funding specific requests from clinics; a modest 2% overall increase in order to help address the increased cost of doing business. The pressures that clinics face to manage the costs of running a clinic strain their ability to provide quality client service. Funding for infrastructure is necessary to ensure that client needs do not suffer.

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Ensuring quality services; Improved Information Management System

$1.2 million for the implementation of an information management system

To reflect the not-for-profit nature of clinics, a specialized information management system will be developed, providing clinic-tailored and meaningful data for planning, informing client service decisions and for performance management.

The new information management system would automatically capture information, prepare correspondence and inform clients, integrate and compiles information from different software for case management, docket time by area-of-law, conflict checks and financial eligibility calculations, and manage staff appointments and scheduling. Automating these functions will free up clinic resources that can be redirected to helping clients and expanding legal services for low-income Ontarians.

The new system will also provide clinics and clinic boards with valuable data for monitoring productivity, planning, improving efficiency, quality and coverage, facilitate the coordination of services, and in assessing alternative service delivery mechanisms.

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Expanding Interpretation and Translation Services

$50,000 in new funding for "Six Languages Text and Audio Project"

People who do not understand English or French are over-represented among Ontario's poor. Nearly 5% of Ontarians below the poverty line cannot speak French or English and 25% speak another language at home.

Community Legal Education Ontario's Six Languages Text and Audio Project launched in August 2006, funded by LAO and the Ontario Trillium Foundation. The project aims to give people from six language groups (Chinese, Arabic, Tamil, Urdu, Spanish and Somali) the legal information they need, in words they understand, through places they already look to and trust, such as community newspapers and radio stations, and settlement agencies.

The new funding will help to meet requests that more languages be included.

Community Legal Educatino Ontario (CLEO)
Community Legal Education Ontario is a community legal clinic dedicated to providing low-income and disadvantaged people in Ontario with the legal information they need to understand and exercise their legal rights.

Visit CLEO's website for more information: www.cleo.on.ca

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For more information contact:


Kristian Justesen
Manager of Communications and Public Affairs
Legal Aid Ontario
416 979-2352 ext 4782
justesk@lao.on.ca