LAO update: fall 2022 edition

Published: December 7, 2022

A quarterly update on Legal Aid Ontario’s latest access to justice initiatives


Message from the CEO

Over the past few months, we have been working on several initiatives to respond to the needs of vulnerable Ontarians.

We shared a report on how we are improving legal aid services for Indigenous clients, expanded our third-party application process to permit more people to apply for legal aid on behalf of clients, and we implemented new minimum experience requirements for our roster members. You can learn more in the updates below.

In the spirit of access to justice: I am happy to share that on October 18, we held the first in-person ceremony for the Sidney B. Linden awards in three years, where we paid tribute to the 2019, 2020, and 2021 winners. This was a welcome return to in-person celebrations, and we enjoyed an evening honouring Timothy Lutes, Danny Morton, and Lois Cromarty for the ways they have championed access to justice throughout their careers.

October continued to be a busy month for access to justice with National Duty Counsel Day on Oct. 27. Dedicated to creating awareness of duty counsel, this day was a success: In addition to landmarks across the province shining red to raise awareness, we also had 50 schools from both English and French school boards partner with us to teach their students about duty counsel and their essential role in the justice system.

Looking ahead, we are preparing our business plan for 2023/24, which includes setting our plans and priorities for the next fiscal year.

Finally, I would like to provide a brief update on LAO’s financial position, which has changed over the past several months. Several increases in the Bank of Canada interest rate in 2022 have caused revenue from the Law Foundation of Ontario to rebound, putting LAO in a positive financial position for 2022/23. LAO is working with the Ministry of the Attorney General to assess the impacts of the increased revenue from the Law Foundation of Ontario on LAO’s multi-year fiscal planning.



Updates

Working toward reconciliation

Recognizing that reconciliation is an ongoing process that requires unwavering commitment and meaningful action, Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) commemorated the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30 by reaffirming its commitment to fulfilling the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. Appropriately, a number of these focus on the justice community and relate specifically to the overrepresentation and mistreatment of Indigenous people in the prison and child welfare systems.

LAO is working towards improving the accessibility of our services and increasing our own awareness of Indigenous issues as part of our role in initiating and sustaining systemic change in the justice system. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action continue to guide LAO’s efforts to better understand and address the needs of Indigenous clients. A comprehensive list of existing and planned initiatives is available on our website. To help us become better equipped to provide culturally safe service, LAO has also partnered with NVision Insight Group to deliver an online Indigenous cultural intelligence learning experience called The Path: Your Journey through Indigenous Canada to all our staff. NVision is a majority-Indigenous-owned consulting company.

Assisted application process for new service provider groups

Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) is continuing to better respond to the needs of applicants, particularly those with vulnerabilities where regular access channels pose problems, by broadening the scope of the existing “lawyer assisted application process” to become an “assisted application process” with other service provider groups.

The new service groups who can assist clients with the application process are:

  • Brydges duty counsel
  • LAO duty counsel/ staff lawyers, including senior counsel
  • Select clinics
  • Office of the Public Guardian & Trustee (OPGT- where the OPGT is appointed as a legal representative, or where the OPGT has been appointed as a legal guardian of property.)

Forms are available in the coverage areas of criminal (adult and youth) out of custody matters, child protection proceedings, family law proceedings (where the applicant is experiencing domestic violence), and immigration and refugee proceedings. They are meant to benefit extremely vulnerable clients who tend to have difficulties with the application process.

The forms continue to be an optional access channel and are not mandatory. All traditional channels remain open and available for use.

New minimum experience requirements for roster member authorizations

In accordance with the Legal Aid Services Act, 2020 (LASA 2020), Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) has implemented minimum experience requirements that roster (formerly panel) members must meet in order to provide legal aid certificate services and duty counsel services in specific areas of law. These new minimum experience requirements replace the existing standards for roster members and are part of a broader effort to modernize the administration of legal aid services.

The new requirements were established to set clear attainable levels of minimum experience, to reduce administration for both LAO and roster lawyers, to meet LAO’s obligations under LASA 2020 and to respond to the recommendations of the Auditor General of Ontario.

A conditional authorization is available for lawyers who do not meet the minimum experience requirements at the time they apply to join the roster, allowing them to work towards completing the requirements leading to full authorization.

Need legal aid? Apply online!

As a reminder, Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) allows certain people to apply for our services online, and all clients have access to a client‑only site.

Our online application is a valuable tool that improves access to justice for many Ontarians. Please help us promote it by telling your peers about it, or visit the “Online applications” section of our publications webpage to download and share our promotional materials.

All users of our online portal can:

  • get updates on a legal aid application or certificate status whenever you need to instead of calling.
  • upload requested information—such as financial information—instead of having to mail them or fax them or drop them off at a local office.
  • update personal information like your address, phone number and email address on your own at your convenience.

Online applications are available to people with specific immigration/refugee, criminal and family issues who:

  • have no income, or
  • receive Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program payments, and
  • do not own any property.