Information for lawyers

Big Case Management

The Big Case Management (BCM) program governs the most costly and complex criminal trial defences funded by Legal Aid Ontario (LAO).

Under the BCM program, LAO sets budget limits for criminal cases expected to cost more than $20,000. In these cases, LAO establishes individual budgets rather than using its standard tariff system to determine the maximum hours available to counsel.

LAO's legislated guidelines provide big case management for criminal matters in the following circumstances:

  • Any case where the total fees and disbursements are anticipated to exceed $20,000
  • Murder cases (first or second degree murder charge) where the total fees and disbursements are anticipated to exceed $30,000
  • Any case with multiple accused where the collective fees and disbursements are anticipated to exceed $50,000

Cases expected to cost more than $75,000 are reviewed by an Exceptions Committee, composed of LAO staff and highly respected private bar lawyers with expertise in conducting large cases. The Exceptions Committee makes recommendations for budgets, and each case receives individual consideration.

Goals of Big Case Management

The goals of the BCM program are to:

  • monitor and control case cost, in accordance with the standard of a reasonable client of modest means;
  • increase predictability of case cost;
  • provide lawyers with appropriate resources for high quality and effective service delivery;
  • ensure that the criminal bar continues to accept certificates for big cases;
  • develop and maintain a framework of accountability and consistency.

BCM application process and guidelines

When to apply for Big Case Management

  • If you anticipate that a case is likely to exceed $20,000, you must notify the district area director (DAD).
  • You must also notify the DAD if you believe the preliminary hearing is likely to take two weeks or more.
  • Budget requests must be brought to the attention of the DAD in advance of any proceeding, or you risk not being fully reimbursed for services rendered. The DAD must receive reasonable notice prior to a proceeding. Generally, retroactive budgets will not be set.
  • Always contact the DAD, or the office that issued the certificate. In some circumstances this policy may be waived, but lawyers should only contact a different district area director if directed to do so.

How to apply

  • All lawyers seeking entry into BCM must complete an opinion letter following either the Trial Opinion Guideline or the Hearings Opinion Guideline (which can be used for any hearing including a preliminary hearing, sentencing hearing, dangerous offender hearing etc.). Time spent completing these forms is billable time.
  • Complete the forms as accurately as possible as the forms are used to determine the budget.
  • Budget requests should reflect the stage of the proceeding and always precede that stage. As such, budgets for preliminary hearings, special hearings and trials will be authorized separately.
  • Requests for co-counsel and junior counsel are granted only in very limited circumstances.
  • You should include the names and counsel of all co-accused.
  • Any information disclosed in the opinion letter, and all discussions between the case managing district area director and counsel in the BCM meeting is treated as confidential, and solicitor client privilege is protected.
  • The representation of co-accused (more than one defendant in the same matter) by one counsel or firm is not recommended. This is only allowed in extreme cases, and only where LAO is indemnified by counsel for fees lost as a result of the removal of counsel. All clients should consent to this in writing.

Application process

  • The completed opinion letter is submitted to the case managing district area director. Once reviewed, the district area director will contact you to arrange a BCM meeting. BCM meetings are occasionally held over the telephone.
  • After the meeting, the decision regarding the budget and the acceptance of the matter into BCM is given to counsel in writing by the DAD. Until confirmation is received in writing, the regular tariff maximums apply.
  • There is no appeal from a refusal of admission into BCM. You are entitled to re-apply if there is a change in circumstance.

BCM guidelines

  • The BCM budget does not supersede basic tariff provisions such as the hourly rate for lawyers, the limit of billing to 10 hours per service provider per calendar day, or restrictions on travel in the GTA
  • If a case is accepted into BCM, you will be provided with a number of preparation hours before and during the proceeding on a per diem basis. Any misunderstanding about the budget should be brought to the attention of the case managing district area director
  • After a budget has been confirmed by the case managing district area director in writing, you should direct further requests for disbursement authorizations to the DAD
  • Confirmed budgets are maximum authorizations. Lawyer Payments has no residual discretion to allow payments beyond those authorizations
  • If an authorized budget is no longer appropriate due to a change in circumstance, contact the DAD in advance of using any additional time
  • You are permitted to carry forward unused hours from a preceding budget (such as a preliminary hearing budget) only with the approval from the DAD
  • When submitting an account, clearly indicate the type of proceeding, the preparation, and court time hours that are to be applied (e.g. preliminary hearing, pre-trial motions, trial, dangerous offender application, etc.)
  • If a case is admitted into BCM, but you are unsatisfied with the authorization of time, you can write a letter of appeal to the president of Legal Aid Ontario, (copied to the director, Big Case Management)
  • Lawyers with matters that are likely to exceed tariff but remain below $20,000 (the BCM threshold) should advise the DAD (copied to Lawyer Payments) of the details of the case and an estimate of the time and services required above the tariff maximums. Lawyer Payments will consider this a factor in the settlement of your account
  • Lawyers are limited in the fees they can bill legal aid annually. The billing limit is 2,350 hours per year (regardless of tier level). This billing limit applies to BCM matters. Please refer to the Tariff and Billing Handbook for further details

Exceptions Committee

If the district area director's review of the opinion letter provided by counsel reveals that a budget is likely to exceed $75,000, counsel will receive a written invitation requesting her or his attendance at an Exceptions Committee meeting.

The Exceptions Committee considers any written materials and submissions during the meeting and upon deliberation make budgetary recommendations. The district area director is advised of the recommendations, and the final decision of the district area director (on the recommendation of the Exceptions Committee) will be conveyed to counsel by the director, Big Case Management.

After a matter has been considered by the Exceptions Committee and a budget has been set, all further requests for authorizations of time should be directed to the case managing district area director. The district area director will assess the request and ascertain whether the matter should be brought back to the Exceptions Committee.

Big Case Management for appeals

Although the $20,000 threshold applies, Big Case Management for appeals to the Ontario Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada has a separate process.

If you believe a matter is likely to qualify, you should forward a letter to LAO's provincial office (Attention: Big Case Management Appeals). The letter should set out the details concerning the appeal. It should also include supporting documentation such as the original opinion letter, and appropriate time requirements to complete the appeal.