COVID‑19: Update from Legal Aid Ontario and message to lawyers

Published: March 26, 2020

As part of our ongoing response to the COVID‑19 pandemic, Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) is working to offer more business support and information to lawyers.

We are committed to instituting interim business solutions, and are eager to work with you while cooperating with the courts and Ministry of the Attorney General to maintain access to justice.

Following this note, we’ve listed resources regarding safe practices, as well as more key updates relevant to the legal community.

Further to our message on March 17 regarding service, billing and other steps LAO is taking, we are working hard to develop a suite of business supports to help you during this time.

These include:

  • Extending the date for completing your self‑report.
  • As of March 27, reducing payment time from 28 to 14 days for submitted accounts.
  • There is $17.8M in outstanding billings from the private bar in LAO’s accounts payable. LAO will pay this amount out on Friday, March 27.
  • Reinstituting the bail block authorization to be added to certificates.
  • Exploring ways for alternative payments.
  • Waiving merit testing for bail review.
  • Paying volunteer criminal lawyers who attended court March 16‑20, 2020.
  • Working on a temporary payment option for block fees which will allow counsel the choice of billing on an hourly basis so lawyers can bill for prep work prior to the conclusion of a matter and bill for resolutions where they were not in attendance.
  • Temporarily suspending collection on recoveries identified in audits and investigations.

We are also engaged in ongoing discussions with law associations in an effort to further clarify billing and certificate coverage rules.

For the duration of the COVID‑19 crisis, some of LAO’s policies regarding legal and financial eligibility (excluding appellate matters) will be temporarily changed to allow us to quickly help people at heightened risk. In the coming days, legal and financial eligibility testing will be waived for the following:

  • Criminal defence certificates for in-custody accused (excluding homicide)
  • Summary legal advice
  • Child, Youth, and Family Services Act (CYFSA) matters
  • Psychiatric patients seeking assistance for CCB and ORB matters
  • Victims of domestic abuse who are seeking family court assistance including initial and motion to change proceedings

Implementation details are still being worked out.

Additional resources

Latest updates and notices from the courts about closures and changes in procedures:

Please note that on March 17, 2020, the Ontario Government passed a regulation pursuant to section 7.1 of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act suspending all limitation periods and procedural timelines except for CYFSA matters), retroactive to March 16, 2020. Please visit e‑Laws for the full details of the regulation, once it is available.

Resources for promoting health and safety: COVID‑19

Under the Quarantine Act, the Government of Canada now mandates that all travellers entering Canada by air, sea, or land self-isolate for 14 days, regardless of whether or not they have symptoms of COVID‑19.

Ontario’s Ministry of Health recommends the following everyday steps:

  • wash your hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • sneeze and cough into your sleeve
  • avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
  • avoid contact with people who are sick
  • stay home if you are sick

The Government of Canada has published resources and recommendations, including guidance on cleaning and disinfecting public spaces and tips for practicing social distancing.

Please note that the Government of Canada reports there is an increased risk of more severe outcomes for people who are aged 65 and over, with compromised immune systems or with underlying medical conditions. Extra care should be taken if you identify with one of these categories or when interacting with others who may.

Please visit the following websites for more information on COVID‑19, including updates and additional resources: