Five things lawyers should know about the block fee pilot
Posted on: Thursday, June 2, 2011
Block fees are a fixed fee system, introduced by Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) for all summary convictions and some indictable offences. This system provides lawyers with a more efficient means of receiving payment for their services, while helping LAO reduce the administrative costs associated with billing.
1. Not all criminal certificates are paid by block fee.
Block fees are designed to exclude cases that are inherently complex, serious or have highly variable costs. These include:
- cases managed through the Big Case Management;
- several serious indictable charges such as murder, sexual assault, and terrorism;
- specific proceedings such as appeals and Youth Criminal Justice Act matters
All trials and criminal cases set down for trial will be paid under the hourly tariff.
2. Block fee rates represent current legal aid rates, and are consistent with the hourly tariff.
To help set the current block fee rates, LAO assessed over 236,000 completed hourly tariff certificate billings over a five-year period, beginning in 2006. The cases assessed had their value adjusted to reflect tariff increases and disbursement costs, while infrequently billed cases were automatically excluded from the sampling.
When analyzing summary convictions, LAO found that the completed case cost for 68 per cent of guilty pleas and 66 per cent of withdrawals fell within $50 dollars of the average cost. When LAO assessed cases within $100 of the average cost, 95 per cent of guilty pleas and 97 per cent of withdrawals fell within this range. This data helped LAO ensure that the block fee rates reflected real-world costs and that the rates were consistent with the hourly tariff.
3. Block fees phase 2 is not the same as the original block fee pilot.
The second phase of the block fee program takes into account several elements that were not part of the original pilot. These include a broader range of charges, different types of proceedings and the consideration of a wider range of client needs. Other changes include a much greater range of enhancements, and the ability to revert to the hourly tariff if a case is set down for trial. Block fees phase 2 has been designed to be more responsive to variations in the complexity and cost of criminal certificates.
4. Block fees have been adjusted in response to lawyers’ comments.
In designing phase 2 of the block fee pilot, LAO consulted with many stakeholders including the Criminal Lawyers’ Association (CLA) and made adjustments in response to lawyers’ comments. LAO will continue to work with the CLA, criminal lawyers and other stakeholders to monitor the impact of the block fees program and make adjustments where necessary.
5. Block fees are beneficial to clients.
Block fees will help lawyers assist LAO clients expeditiously and more effectively. For example, clients should be subject to fewer dates in set date courts, and clients who wish to resolve their matters quickly should benefit from an earlier resolution of charges that would inevitably be resolved. Vulnerable clients will also benefit from targeted block fees that will assist these clients in receiving appropriate resolutions.
In situations where going to trial is in the client’s best interest, the hourly tariff will help ensure that lawyers receive the appropriate pay for their work.