LAO originally developed a single set of panel standards for all refugee-related work more than a decade ago. In the opinion of the Refugee Lawyers Association and other stakeholders, these standards:
- are too weak for today’s environment
- lack mechanisms to review compliance or take remedial action
- fail to distinguish between the appropriate levels of expertise and experience required for different kinds of cases.
Between November 18, 2013 and February 28, 2014, LAO held public consultations to receive input on its proposal to revise the panel standards for LAO-funded refugee and immigration service providers. In total, approximately 60 people participated, via:
- six public consultations in Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa and by webinar, in both official languages as well as three in-house consultations for LAO staff lawyers and clinic staff
- Legal Aid Online, email, fax and telephone
- detailed written briefs from the Refugee Lawyers’ Association in Ontario and the Inter-Clinic Immigration Working Group
It collaborated with the RLA and took into consideration the concerns and feedback received to develop a second draft of the standards. It used this second draft as the basis for further consultation and development with the goal of finalizing and implementing the current minimum professional standards for LAO-funded refugee and immigration service providers.
LAO will consult with the RLA in the development of a new process for empanelment, compliance monitoring, and removal. LAO hopes to have the new standards in place before the end of the year.
This initiative is part of LAO’s larger effort to ensure that LAO clients – who are among the most vulnerable members of Ontario society – receive consistently high quality legal representation. Similar panel standards projects are underway in the other areas of law served by LAO.