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LAO Responds to Ombudsman's Report

Posted on: Tuesday, February 26 /08

Legal Aid Ontario's letter of response to the Ombudsman's report on LAO's role in the funding of legal fees and disbursements for the Richard Wills case.

Below are excerpts from the Letter to the Ombudsman dated February 8, 2008.

February 8, 2008

Dear Mr. Marin:

When you announced your investigation of Legal Aid Ontario's ("LAO") role in the funding of legal fees and disbursements in the Richard Wills case, John McCamus, the Chair of the LAO Board of Directors, wrote to you that LAO welcomed your investigation and that LAO wanted to learn as much as it could about how to strengthen its response in the future when cases of this nature arise .

LAO agrees with the Report's central conclusion that the Wills matter was poorly handled by LAO, that the accounts of defence counsel were not properly scrutinized by LAO prior to the Court's order of June 14, 2007 and that there was a serious lack of proper management oversight.

As you stated in your Report, LAO's review of accounts on behalf of the Ministry had been rigorous and responsible prior to the Wills case. You also noted that LAO had applied itself diligently to the review of the Wills accounts following the Court's order of June 14, 2007. On behalf of LAO, I express LAO's deep regret that the same rigour and accountability were not applied in LAO's handling of the Wills case prior to the Court's order. Your Report details the many unusual and challenging features of this case but they do not excuse the failure of administrative effectiveness that occurred in this instance.

LAO is committed to improving the administration of defence counsel accounts in future court-ordered counsel cases and LAO has implemented, and continues to implement, administrative and management changes in respect both of those cases and of all the big criminal cases LAO is managing to ensure that LAO can meet that commitment:

  • A protocol has been developed with the Ministry of the Attorney General that provides LAO with clear authority and a clear mandate to manage defence spending for cases where there is court-ordered funded counsel (non-certificate cases).
  • LAO is continuing to work with the Ministry of the Attorney General to develop supporting procedures and guidelines to ensure efficient and effective administration of these cases, including an enhanced proactive monitoring function during proceedings.
  • LAO has implemented changes in the administration of non-certificate cases at LAO by creating a new unit and hiring a manager to oversee these cases. The manager reports directly to the Vice-President responsible for big cases.
  • I have increased senior management oversight of all cases costing more than $75,000 by requiring financial sign-off by senior management.
  • LAO is conducting a review of all criminal big case policies and practices. I am reviewing what additional measures are required in order to achieve greater accountability for those cases. I will be consulting with the bar and with the Ministry of the Attorney General in respect of appropriate levels of management oversight and analysis for the different categories of big cases.
  • The LAO Board conducted an internal review of LAO's handling of the Wills case. The results of the review will be shared with you and with the Ministry of the Attorney General in accordance with the recommendation in your Report. The Board will be recommending to the Ministry that the accounts of defence counsel in the Wills case be assessed, if possible, through the normal court-administered taxing process.

LAO agrees that there are systemic issues that require attention and LAO welcomes the recommendations in your Report that are within LAO's mandate to achieve. LAO will be happy to keep you informed of LAO's progress in the management of big cases.

. accountability for LAO's handling of the Wills case rests solely with me and the senior management team .

LAO agrees with you that it is important not to disregard the past in building for the future. LAO has learned from its experience in the Wills case and LAO is committed to ensuring that its present and future management of the accounts of big criminal cases, including non-certificate cases, be rigorous and responsible in keeping with its statutory mandate to provide consistently high quality legal aid services in a cost-effective and efficient manner to low-income individuals throughout Ontario and in keeping with its agenda to provide value to the taxpayers of Ontario.

Yours very truly,

Robert W. Ward
President and CEO
Legal Aid Ontario