About Legal Aid Ontario
About Legal Aid Ontario
Providing equal access to justice for low-income individuals has remained the guiding principle for legal aid services since they were first introduced to Ontario over 30 years ago.
Ontario first implemented an organized legal aid plan for criminal cases in 1951. Lawyers provided legal assistance on a volunteer basis.
By 1963, the Ontario government and the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) decided that the voluntary plan was not adequately meeting the demand for legal aid and that it made excessive demands on the volunteer lawyers.
In 1967, the Ontario Legal Aid Plan (OLAP) was created based on the legal aid plans operating in England and Scotland. The plan was financed by the provincial government and managed by LSUC.
Community clinics were first established in the early 1970s to provide legal services, public legal information and community development for low-income and disadvantaged people.
Clinics address the unique legal needs of low-income people who need help with the essentials of life, such as subsistence income and safe housing, and access to the most basic social services, such as education for children.
Until the 1980s, the major focus of OLAP had been criminal law. Between 1980 and 1990, OLAP expanded its clinic, family, refugee, mental health, and Aboriginal services considerably. Services continued to expand in the 1990s.
In the early 1990s, at the height of a recession, OLAP was issuing more than 200,000 certificates a year for a broad range of criminal, family, refugee, and other civil claims.
Funding for the clinic system was frozen in 1992, despite the fact that large areas of the province were still without clinic law services.
In 1994, the Ontario government capped funding for the certificate program. Over the next couple of years, certificate services dropped significantly. In 1996-97, OLAP issued approximately 75,000 certificates, a reduction of more than 150,000 certificates from just a few years earlier.
In 1997, law professor John McCamus led a review of OLAP. His report, titled "A Blueprint for Publicly Funded Legal Services," was released in September 1997. He recommended the creation of an independent body to govern OLAP and experimentation with service delivery models such as the use of staff lawyers, contracting and wider use of duty counsel, with more focus on serving client needs.
The government introduced The Legal Aid Services Act, 1998, to create an independent agency called Legal Aid Ontario (LAO).
LAO, in cooperation with its justice partners, built a business case for tariff reform and presented it to the Government of Ontario. In 2002, the government granted the first tariff increase in over 15 years including a 28 per cent increase in duty counsel rates and special northern rates.
LAO completed the expansion of its clinics with the opening of five new general service clinics, two specialty clinics, the Income Security Advocacy Centre and the Advocacy Centre for Tenants-Ontario, including providing legal services in French to the Ontario Francophone community, and expanded ten existing clinics. With this achievement, for the first time legal services were available to all Ontario residents within their own communities."
LAO developed and implemented the first ever memorandum of understanding (MOU) and funding agreements with the community legal clinic system and with student legal aid services societies (SLASS). The MOU sets out the roles and responsibilities of LAO and individual clinics and SLASSs.
The original LAO logo was created in 1970 and used until 2004 when it was replaced by:
For more information regarding Legal Aid Ontario please refer to our Fact Sheets