Board advisory committees

Minutes of Legal Aid Ontario clinic law advisory committee, on March 10, 2016

Committee members

John McCamus (Chair); Lisa Cirillo; Lorraine Duff; Shelley Gavigan; Karen Mathewson; Trudy McCormick; Colette Murphy; Ryan Peck; Kevin Pinsonneault; Jeff Plain; John Rae; Derry Millar (LAO Board liaison).

1. Welcome and introductions

The Chair opened the meeting and welcomed those present.

2. Minutes, September 14, 2015

The minutes of the September 14, 2015 meeting were approved as amended.

3. LAO business planning slide deck and discussion

The Chair presented an overview of the LAO updates and proposed priorities for 2017/2018 slide deck, noting that LAO is starting a new business planning cycle which begins with the environmental scan. Environmental scanning is also the focus of the spring advisory committee meetings.

Updates were provided on recent developments at LAO.

The LAO Board has approved the proposal to post public minutes of advisory committee meetings on the LAO website. This proposal was reviewed with the committees at the fall meetings, where members made suggestions which the Board has adopted as principles:

  • the minutes will be circulated and approved before posting
  • they will not contain confidential information
  • comments will not be attributed to individual members although members’ names will be listed on the website along with some brief biographical information
  • attendance will not be recorded in the minutes.

The suggestion was also made to include a disclaimer in the minutes indicating that the views expressed are not necessarily the views of every member. Although the original proposal involved the creation of two sets of minutes, they are so similar that in future there will likely only be one set of minutes with confidential information, if there is any, provided to the Board in a cover report.

David Field has been appointed as LAO’s new President and CEO, following Bob Ward’s retirement in December. David’s background is in the public service. At the Ministry of the Attorney General, he was involved in drafting the Legal Aid Services Act in the 1990s. He has been a vice president at LAO, where he developed a risk assessment model and was in charge of business planning.

The most important new development at LAO remains the new funding for expanded eligibility for legal aid. After two decades without an adjustment to the eligibility standard, LAO developed a proposal that would double the number of low-income people who qualified for legal aid over an eight-to-10-year period, and presented this business case to the province. The business case was accepted. In addition to implementing six per cent across-the-board increases to financial eligibility, LAO has been able to expand legal aid coverage to include new types of cases. The new funding must be spent on newly eligible clients, and LAO must be able to demonstrate this. It is believed that approximately 20,000 additional certificates will be issued this year as a result of expanded eligibility. A regulation change will be required to implement further increases to eligibility after the third six-per-cent increase comes into effect on April 1, 2016. LAO is hoping for a commitment for another three or four years of increases.

The LAO updates and proposed priorities for 2017/2018 slide deck shows the major increases in certificate issuance. The biggest increase in criminal law was for minor offences, as a result of expansion of legal coverage to include serious secondary consequences and first-time accused from vulnerable groups. In family law, the greatest increase was in cases with allegations of domestic violence.

A 20 per cent proportion of the new funding was allocated to clinics and Student Legal Aid Services Societies (SLASS), using a distribution formula determined through consultations. Base funding to clinics increased by $6.7 million since November 2014, and a further $3.3 million was set aside in a fund to support clinics working together to expand services.

LAO is participating in several justice system improvement initiatives. This work includes supporting the Attorney General’s roundtables in criminal and family law, and the Ontario Court of Justice’s criminal modernization initiative. In February, LAO was invited to Ottawa to speak to a Senate committee investigating delay in the criminal justice system.

In addition, for several years, LAO has been developing targeted initiatives, or strategies, to improve its services in specific areas, as follows:

  • This work started with the Aboriginal Justice Strategy, which is now in its second five-year phase.

  • For the past three years, LAO has been consulting and developing its Mental Health Strategy, which is just about to be publically launched.

  • Over the past year, LAO has also been consulting on the development of a Domestic Violence Strategy.

  • The Board has now decided to move ahead with development of a Racialized Communities Strategy, a Bail Strategy and a Prison Law Strategy.

  • The Board has also approved a test case strategy for prison law, which establishes non-exhaustive priorities for prison law test case work.

The LAO updates and proposed priorities for 2017/2018 slide deck also includes the following:

  • Highlights of the current year’s business plan, which was submitted to the Ministry of the Attorney General in December 2015. LAO’s accomplishments over the past year included establishing an interim mental health appeals program, implementing new refugee panel standards and completing a re-empanelment process for the refugee bar, and expanding its Alternative Fee Arrangement (AFA) program for certificate lawyers.

  • The business plan priorities for the coming year, which were reviewed with the committee in the fall.

  • A number of environmental scanning slides from the current business plan, illustrating trends in criminal law, family law and clinic services. In criminal law, the declining crime rate has had a significant impact on the number of certificates issued, although expanded eligibility has helped to raise numbers. There was a slight decrease in clinic services last year.

It was noted that, in the past, LAO’s business plans were treated as confidential documents. Under LAO’s current memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of the Attorney General, LAO can circulate a public business plan. In the coming weeks, a public version of its current business plan will be available on the LAO website.

It was also noted that there have been three strong recent appointments to the LAO Board. A Board member and an alternate are assigned to each advisory committee.

Committee members provided input and advice. The views expressed below do not necessarily reflect the views of every member:

  • The committee recommended cross-referencing between LAO’s priority strategies. There are many points of connection and the people working on the strategies should be working together.

  • The Aboriginal Justice Strategy is making a difference. Enhancing the capacity of both LAO and clinics to provide outreach and services to Aboriginal clients is important work and is helping to building awareness and trust in Aboriginal communities. More of this work needs to be done.

  • The committee was interested in statistics on clinic services. It was noted that the slight decline has mostly been in the areas of advice and referral services. This is not likely statistically significant, because clinic staff often record services differently. For example, one staff member might record four interactions where a client seeks assistance with four issues, while another staff member might record one interaction. It was agreed that there can be vast discrepancies in the way that clinic staff record the provision of services. Some clinics create their own “shell intakes” that are not part of the current intake statistics program, so that they can have information on, for example, how many Aboriginal clients they serve. When the Clinic Information Management System (CIMS) is implemented, there will be a change. It was noted that SLASS will not have access to CIMS, but that it would be good for SLASS to have access to the new statistics categories that CIMS will be using.

  • There was interest in whether LAO or clinics are able to track social return on investment as a result of the provision of legal aid and clinic services. For example, LAO or clinics could show how much money was saved as a result of preventing evictions. Some clinics do this.

  • This year, the Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario (ACLCO) completed its first annual report for the clinic system, which looks at the impact of access to justice and clinic services. The ACLCO report is about to be made available to the public.

4. Clinic update and discussion

LAO’s Senior Advisor, Clinics provided the clinic update in a report. This report provided an overview of clinic-led transformation projects as well as some key LAO projects that sit alongside and are complementary to the transformation projects.

Each region of the province has been involved with a transformation project, some with a number of sub-projects, and there is also a specialty clinic transformation project. Many of the projects are entering their third year as follows:

  • Year one: a needs assessment stage
  • Year two: implementation planning
  • Year three: transition planning.

The project for the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) region ended in August 2015. Unspent funds were returned to LAO, but many GTA clinics are interested in moving forward with transformation initiatives on a smaller scale. In March 2015 GTA clinics were invited to submit applications for transformation funding.

The Southwest region has several sub-projects underway, including the Legal Health Check-up Project and the Wraparound Services Project. It is also moving forward with moves and co-locations.

In the Central East region, the project needs assessment was completed and an implementation and transition plan submitted to LAO. Three Ottawa clinics have reached an agreement to amalgamate into one clinic with three locations by March 2017.

In the Northern region, needs assessment has been completed, and development of an implementation plan and transition plan is in progress. Eight specialty clinics are co-locating and three have already moved into their new space at 55 University Avenue in Toronto. The co-location brings clients and important work together. Cross-regional transformation initiatives include the Boldness Project, which is focused on rural and remote access to justice. The project is forming alliances with healthcare providers and libraries, has launched a website and is developing a client app.

Overall, clinic transformation has momentum, and clinics leading transformation projects view the work positively. There are different levels of engagement across the province. Many projects are experiencing delays, but all are progressing except for the original GTA Region project. To date, there is a lot of focus on client service enhancement, and less focus on administrative savings. The visions coming forward from the regions are more focused on coordination than on consolidating.

The development of CIMS is now in its final stages, although a go-live implementation date is not yet available.

The $3.3 million Provincial Fund, established from the new funding for expanded eligibility, received 79 applications for collaborative clinic initiatives in areas of unmet need. Many of the proposals grew out of the needs assessment work carried out for clinic transformation. The funds for successful proposals are to be allocated by March 31, 2016 and successful applicants will be advised shortly.

Other initiatives underway include a new clinic audit and oversight management process, which is a new integrated clinic review process. The first reviews are being conducted with volunteer clinics.

LAO is currently consulting with the ACLCO and clinics to determine the most effective way to administer clinic learning and training initiatives.

Committee members provided input and advice. The views expressed below do not necessarily reflect the views of every member:

  • There is a need for an evaluation of clinic transformation initiatives, focusing on the impact of transformation on client services, community boards and community involvement.

  • It has been helpful for clinics to access new expanded eligibility funding, particularly where transformation needs assessments have pointed to service and access gaps.

  • The process of advising clinics about the availability of new funding needs to occur as early as possible in the fiscal year, to assist clinics in making decisions.

  • Employment law needs were identified as important by several members. The higher the financial eligibility thresholds climb, the more likely that clients will have employment law and workplace safety issues. Clinics and SLASS are using some of their new funding to expand employment law services, and there will be more of this to come.

  • At the same time as new legal needs such as in the area of employment law are emerging as a result of expanded eligibility, high demand for clinic services continues in the area of Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) appeals. Some encouraging developments were reported at the provincial level, where there is talk of changing the ODSP application and medical review forms. Some clinics are also noticing that more people are being found eligible under medical review, which could signal a change in attitude by decision-makers. It was felt that clinic activism may be helping to bring about systemic change.

  • There have been recent positive developments at both the federal and provincial level, and there may be opportunities for federal-provincial synergies in areas such as poverty reduction and housing.

5. Other business

None was raised.