About Legal Aid Ontario

Myths and realities



Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) is committed to dispelling and clarifying any myths and rumours surrounding our services and operations. Below, read the facts behind some of the most commonly discussed misconceptions.

Do you have an LAO myth or rumour that youd like clarified? Submit the form at the bottom of this page to have your questions answered.

Myth: LAO plans to pay criminal lawyers more than family lawyers.

  • This is untrue.
  • LAO has no plans to differentiate tariff rates between these two areas of law.

Myth: LAO is hiring a lot of students and new lawyers in order to move to a public defender system.

  • LAO is not moving to a public defender system. In our view, a mixed system is the way to go.
  • Such a change would require new legislation. LAO is not aware of any plans to change the Legal Aid Services Act.
  • It is true that LAO is hiring a significant number of new articling students approximately 50 students annually over the next two years, as part of its own internal initiative, LAOs Lawyer Workforce Strategy (LWS).
  • The goals of LAOs LWS are to provide more jobs for articling students, and to provide a pipeline of trained lawyers. Once trained, these lawyers could move into our duty counsel program as we expand it around the province, into the courts as our current duty counsel lawyers move on to pursue other matters, and into local communities to meet clients needs for lawyers who take LAO certificates.

Myth: LAO now grants certificates for limited timeframes, such as six-month periods.

  • LAO does not put limitations on how quickly services have to be provided under a certificate
  • Certificates are granted for hours of service and blocks of time
  • Certificates do have certain conditions:
    • A certificate will be cancelled if a lawyer does not acknowledge it.
    • LAO may issue a Financial Reassessment Notice if it learns that the client may not be eligible for legal aid services, and may cancel the certificate if the client fails to show up for the reassessment.
    • LAO notifies lawyers at the three-year anniversary of a certificate to confirm that the certificate is still in use for an ongoing matter. If the lawyer does not respond, LAO cancels the certificate.

Myth: LAO does not grant a certificate for a criminal matter unless the accused is facing a minimum sentence, such as six months in jail.

  • The length of a potential jail sentence is not a factor in LAOs decision on whether to grant a certificate for a criminal matter.
  • LAO bases its decision on:
    • financial eligibility for legal aid and
    • whether the legal matter qualifies; in general, for criminal matters, this means the likelihood of facing jail if found guilty of the offense.

Myth: LAO has decided to issue fewer certificates.

  • LAO is not and does not plan to cut the number of certificates it issues
  • Certificates are down in all areas, due to the wider range of services LAO now provides to expand access to justice, such as:
    • LawFacts.ca and LAO websites for legal information
    • LAOs toll-free call centre, which answers 1,300 calls each day and offers services in over 200 languages, including TTY and 18 Aboriginal languages and dialects
    • LAO staff and Family Law Information Centres in 56 provincial courthouse offices

Number of certificates issued by LAO

  Year-to-date as of Dec. 2011 Year-to-date as of Dec. 2012 Change (per cent)
Criminal 65,633 58,685 -11%
Family 21,406 18,923 -12%
Immigration and refugee 13,637 8,430 -38%
Other civil 4,871 4,331 -11%
Total 105,547 90,369 -14%

Myth: LAO is cutting the number of certificates it issues for family law

  • As indicated above, certificates are down in all areas, due to the wider range of services LAO now provides to expand access to justice.
  • The primary factor that has led to fewer family law certificates has been the growth of mediation and alternative ways of resolving family disputes.

Myth: LAO is cutting the number of certificates it issues / eliminating certificates for refugee law / imposing major cuts to the refugee law delivery system

  • As indicated above, certificates are down in all areas, due to the wider range of services LAO now provides to expand access to justice.
  • Certificate services are still available in this field, and its not an area LAO plans to leave.
  • LAO has been receiving fewer refugee certificate applications annually since 2011 largely because visa requirements were imposed in certain countries from which many refugees used to arrive St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Namibia, Botswana and Swaziland.
  • More recently, the number of certificates in this area is down as a result of changes to the refugee determination system imposed by new federal refugee legislation which took effect on Dec. 15, 2012.
  • The number of refugee certificate applications LAO has received decreased by an additional 50 to 60 per cent during the first quarter of 2013.
  • When the U.K. introduced a new refugee determination system about 10 years ago, it saw the same precipitous drop in numbers of refugees that Canada is now seeing.
  • As a result of the new legislation, LAO has expanded services:
    • Launched Refugee Appeal Division (RAD) pilot at a cost of $500,000.
    • Continuing to explore partnerships with community legal clinics. LAO already has parterships with two clinics in Toronto (Rexdale Community Legal Clinic and Centre Francophone de Toronto) and one in Ottawa (Vanier Community Services Centre)
    • Looking at licensed paralegals to augment the role of the private bar

Myth: LAO is getting out of the mental health certificate business.

  • LAO continues to offer certificates and other services in the mental health field, and has no intention of discontinuing these services. As part of its commitment to better serving vulnerable client communities, LAO is in fact increasing its funding for mental health matters:
    • Certificates issued for Consent and Capacity Board matters increased by 24% between 2005-2006 and 2011-2012
    • Certificates issued for Ontario Review Board matters increased by 41% between 2005-2006 and 2011-2012
  • LAO is dedicated to strengthening mental health services through its Mental Health Strategy, announced in July 2012.
    • The strategy will build on LAOs current initiatives and in consultation with stakeholders
    • It will put all LAOs programs and services through a mental health lens to ensure that these individuals get the best type of service they can

Myth: LAO only issues family law certificates in cases involving domestic violence.

  • This is untrue.
  • While LAO does prioritize cases involving domestic violence, eligible low-income Ontarians can apply for full representation by a lawyer through the certificate program for a wide range family matters such as custody, child access, support, protection issues, restraining orders, property divisions and more.

Myth: LAO doesnt pay discretion on accounts any more.

  • This is untrue.
  • LAO remains committed to providing lawyers with discretion payments.
  • After extensive consultations with lawyers last year, LAO revised its discretion request criteria and introduced new guidelines to make the process clearer, and to promote quicker, more consistent decisions on discretion requests.

Myth: LAO is asking paralegals to do work that only lawyers should do.

  • Legal Aid Ontario is exploring the use of paralegals to provide high quality services in a cost-effective way:
    • LAO has consulted on and continues to investigate a role for paralegals in the delivery of refugee law services.
    • In criminal law, a small number of paralegals provide services in LAOs courthouse offices alongside lawyers and legal aid workers.
  • Hiring paralegals, where appropriate, is fiscally responsible.
  • The same regulatory body that oversees lawyers the Law Society of Upper Canada oversees paralegals.

Myth: Clients who apply for legal aid from jail via video receive a list of lawyers from the guards, and dont learn about other lawyers in their region who take legal aid.

  • Guards do not generate lists for clients.
  • LAO does prepare alphabetical lists of all lawyers, by region, willing to take certificates
  • If an incarcerated client requests a list, LAO sends the list of lawyers for that region to the jail and the guards deliver it.
  • Clients are told to try and find a lawyer in the region, as travel is only authorized with good reason or in exceptional circumstances

Myth: LAO is encouraging clients to plead guilty or telling legal aid lawyers to just plead everyone to cut court costs, and because this is what Justice on Target wants us to do.

  • LAO does not and will never force any client to plead guilty.
  • LAO directs clients to the most appropriate service as needed, such as duty counsel initially, or to the private bar.
  • Duty counsel may negotiate resolutions, including a non-custodial sentence, in exchange for a plea of guilty but only if client so instructs.
  • The client can reject the deal negotiated, plead not guilty and elect to go to trial.

Myth: LAO is getting rid of the Guaranteed Daily Rate (GDR) and the Gladue block.

  • LAO has no plans to eliminate the GDR or the Gladue block.
  • The GDR is an extra financial option LAO will continue to provide lawyers to account for vast distances they must travel to deliver services in the north
  • LAO will continue to provide Gladue block fees, which provide additional compensation to lawyers who represent Aboriginal clients to ensure that those clients get the services they need.
  • When the tariff goes up, GDR and Gladue block rates will go up too.
  • For instance, when LAO increased the hourly rate paid to lawyers on April 1, 2013, that rate increase the fifth since 2010 included the GDR and all block fees.

Myth: LAO has hired or is planning to hire staff lawyers to conduct criminal trials

In addition to 153 staff lawyers across the province who provide duty counsel services to clients, LAOs Major Case Management Office (MCMO) employs three senior criminal lawyers to provide assistance to panel lawyers in large, complex cases; to advise and mentor both duty counsel and junior panel lawyers; and to represent clients. Since 2010, MCMO lawyers have represented clients in cases where the private bar is unable to do so either due to conflict or unavailability.

Myth: "LAO is moving to a public defender system"

LAO is not moving to a public defender system. Such a change would require new legislations and LAO is not aware of any plans to change the Legal Aid Services Act.

The mixed system as we now have it in Ontario is effective and efficient in serving clients needs.

Myth: "LAO has become too Toronto-centric by relying on the Client Service Centre"

  • LAO has a small call centre in its Toronto head office.
  • The majority of people who work in the call centre actually live in communities throughout the province and work out of their homes.
  • LAO also has 56 courthouse locations, nine district offices, several family law service centres, and staff offices to provide high-quality legal services to clients in all areas across the province.
  • LAOs 56 courthouse locations cover 90 per cent of all criminal charges heard in Ontario.

Myth: "LAO is getting out of the family certificate business"

LAO continues to offer certificates in family law.

In 2013, LAO has issued 18,923 family law certificates.

  • The primary factor leading to a reduction in the number of family law certificates being issued has been the growth of mediation and alternative ways of resolving family disputes.
  • The province of Ontario now supports mediation in all family courthouses, and LAO has duty counsel resources in place to support those services.

Myth: "Duty counsel lawyers are inexperienced"

All LAO duty counsel have extensive experience and do an exceptional job for LAO clients.

  • Staff duty counsel: average years of experience is 11
  • Per diem duty counsel: average number of years of experience is 19
  • Clients have reported to LAO that they are very pleased with LAOs duty counsel service Results from the 2012/13 LAO Annual Client Satisfaction Survey showed that 98.4 % of clients who received assistance from duty counsel felt they were well served.

Myth: "LAO is denying criminal certificates where the likelihood of jail is brief or short"

  • Duty counsel lawyers will take on any matter which they feel they have the abilities, experience, and time to appropriately represent an accused.
  • If a duty counsel lawyer feels that a matter requires a certificate, it will be issued.
  • Since the beginning of this fiscal year (1 Apr 2012) LAO has issued 45,949 criminal certificates.

Myth: "Duty counsel have a quota of clearance of cases/how many guilty pleas are taken"

There are no quotas of any sort at LAO in respect to this matter, nor have there ever been.

Myth: "LAO will automatically issue a certificate if the Crown screening form is ticked 'seeking jail'

  • LAO does not necessarily accept Crowns screening forms as absolute proof that if convicted, a person would go to jail.
  • LAO makes its own assessment of the probability of incarceration.

Myth: "LAO is getting out of the mental health certificate business"

  • LAO continues to offer certificates in mental health matters.
  • LAO has increased funding for certificates in mental health matters.
  • Certificates issued for Consent and Capacity Board matters increased by 24% between 2005-2006 and 2011-2012.
  • Certificates issued for Ontario Review Board matters increased by 41% between 2005-2006 and 2011-2012.
  • LAO is dedicated to strengthening mental health services through its Mental Health Strategy, announced in July 2012.
  • Development of LAOs Mental Health Strategy began in October 2012. The strategy will build on LAOs current initiatives and in consultation with stakeholders. Consultations are expected to begin in Spring 2013.

Myth: LAO is getting rid of the Guaranteed Daily Rate (GDR) and the Gladue block.

No. LAO has no plans to eliminate the GDR or the Gladue block. In fact, LAO increased the hourly rate paid to lawyers on April 1, 2013 the fifth since 2010 which includes the GDR and all block fees.

Submit your own question

If you have a question about any of the myths listed above, or if you have a rumour you would like us to address, please fill out the form below.

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