LAO update Winter 2023 edition
Published: May 2, 2023
A quarterly update on Legal Aid Ontario’s latest access to justice initiatives
Message from the CEO
As part of our strategic plan to put clients at the centre of everything we do, I am pleased to share that our latest quarterly report demonstrates significant progress on this front. Since the last report, Legal Aid Ontario has delivered several initiatives that will enhance legal aid services for clients and ensure that these services remain accessible, high-quality, and suited to clients’ needs. The updates in this report include ways we maintain a roster of highly qualified lawyers, increases to language interpreter rates, and information about an embedded lawyer program where we deliver services in collaboration with a community agency. In addition, we are pleased to provide information on our new service agreements with Nishnawbe-Aski Legal Services (NAN Legal) and Aboriginal Legal Services, which strengthen services to Indigenous clients and advance our work towards reconciliation.
Keep reading to learn more about these and other initiatives and updates.
Aboriginal Legal Services (ALS) and Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) are pleased to announce a new service agreement, under the Legal Aid Services Act, 2020, on Dec. 8.
The agreement renews our commitment to work with ALS to deliver legal aid services that are trauma-informed, culturally safe and relevant to the Indigenous community. Under the new agreement, LAO will increase its investment in the legal aid services and programs ALS delivers. LAO will also provide ALS with funding for new criminal and child protection services to better support the needs of Indigenous communities in the Greater Toronto Area and the needs of Indigenous peoples in the criminal justice and child protection systems.
LAO and Nishnawbe-Aski Legal Services (NAN Legal) signed a new service agreement under the Legal Aid Services Act, 2020.
The service agreement ensures a successful transition to the continued delivery of essential legal aid services within the NAN territory, such as representation in criminal and family law matters, among many other legal programs and services. The agreement includes key improvements which assist NAN Legal’s ability to better serve the members of the NAN communities by providing:
- More autonomy for NAN Legal in the administration of LAO’s certificate and duty counsel services;
- More input for NAN Legal on LAO’s selection of the roster of lawyers who will provide those legal services; and
- The authority for NAN Legal to develop and manage its own staff lawyer program.
Through the service agreement, LAO is pleased to increase its funding and investment in the legal aid services and programs that NAN Legal administers and delivers to its members.
The annual self-report period for 2022 opened in the Legal Aid Online lawyer portal on Jan. 3, 2023.
All Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) roster members admitted prior to Aug. 10, 2022, must complete and submit an annual self-report to:
- renew or retain membership on the legal aid roster and authorizations for all areas of law in which they work
- confirm their ongoing compliance with the minimum experience requirements in the area of law in which they provide legal aid services
- automatically update their standing on LAO’s rosters
Roster members who joined the LAO roster after Aug. 10, 2022, are not required to submit a 2022 annual self-report, but they will be required to submit one in future years.
Using the self-report, lawyers can also request removal of authorization in certain areas of law, or they can resign their roster membership altogether.
Lawyers can access, fill in and submit their self‑report on Legal Aid Online. The self‑report will be in the Personal Info section.
LASA 2020 and its rules require all roster lawyers to complete their self-report by March 31 each year.
More information: Changes to the self-report process
LAO has increased language interpretation rates on certificate matters from $31.40 to $39.25 for the first hour and from $19.20 to $24.00 for subsequent hours, as of December 12, 2022. The new rates apply to interpretation services provided on or after that date.
The rate increase is in response to concerns raised by roster members that it is increasingly difficult to find interpreters willing to provide their services at the current rates. The new, higher rate will help roster members retain qualified interpreters and help legal aid clients receive appropriate representation and access to justice. This increase applies to all areas of law.
LAO was proud to take part, with all the provincial and territorial members of the Association of Legal Aid Plans of Canada (ALAP), in National Duty Counsel Day on October 27, 2022. This day, which ALAP established in 2021, raises awareness of the vital work duty counsel lawyers do for people in Canada.
The focus of the recent National Duty Counsel Day was to educate students about duty counsel and create awareness about rights and civil liberties. After an education session, students became aware of the roles duty counsel play in the justice systems, they learned what education is required to become duty council, and how to access counsel if they or a loved-one ever need it.
Please visit the Duty Counsel Day website at www.knowdutycounsel.ca to find background information on duty counsel, various resources and details on this year’s Duty Counsel Day celebrations, including the full listing of landmarks across Canada that lit up in red on October 27 in honour of this special day.
LAO provides access to justice for low-income people in Ontario through embedded lawyer programs. Embedded lawyer programs enable community agencies (like mental health clinics) to act as a liaison between their visitors and an LAO lawyer.
Sound Times Support Services in the Moss Park area of Toronto has been in a medical-legal partnership with LAO since 2016, where it offers legal services in tandem with the agency’s mental health services. At Sound Times, visitors are screened for multiple legal issues, and eligible clients are then given direct access to an LAO staff lawyer.
Through the lawyer embedded program, lawyers can address the underlying problems that brought an accused person in contact with the criminal justice system. Often, a client may have multiple legal matters that may also need to be addressed. Overall, the program streamlines the legal process for clients, reduces the negative impacts of being involved in the criminal justice sector, and increases their trust in the legal system.
Read the Embedded Lawyer Program annual report to discover more about who this program serves, how this program helps, and why LAO is involved.
On Oct. 24, 2022, LAO returned to its pre-pandemic eligibility requirements for family law services. This change impacts people seeking family law duty counsel services and summary legal advice, in person or by phone. The eligibility is determined by a financial test, based on income and family size, and applies to both services.
Duty counsel now also provide summary legal advice to people attending family court who meet LAO’s financial eligibility criteria. Financial testing has resumed for summary legal advice provided by phone and in person at courthouses, Family Law Service Centres (FLSC), and Family Law Information Centres (FLIC). Emergency family summary legal advice services remain exempt from eligibility testing.