Information for lawyers

Test cases

Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) supports public interest matters through funding (via certificates or project funding agreements) and through research support, coordination of linkages and partnerships and staff lawyer support or mentoring.

What is a public interest matter?

A public interest matter is one that demonstrably, based on specific factors established by LAO:

  • advances important public interests, in alignment with LAO’s access to justice mandate and strategic goals
  • transcends individual interests
  • addresses a serious issue that fundamentally affects low-income Ontarians or disadvantaged communities whose perspective would be unlikely to come before the courts but for the involvement of LAO
  • is a an effective and efficient use of resources – a practical and realistic means of bringing an issue before the court

Why LAO supports public interest cases

Public interest cases are an effective tool in supporting Legal Aid Ontario's (LAO's) statutory mandate – to promote access to justice throughout Ontario for low-income individuals.

In addition to issuing test case certificates through the test case program, LAO supports public interest cases in a number of other ways. These other ways include support to legal aid clinics, the work of staff lawyers, the exercise of discretion to pay lawyers over the tariff, and funding cases through the Big Case Management program.

Eligibility criteria

All applications must meet LAO’s eligibility test for public interest matters. The committee has a flexible mandate with discretion to recommend individual cases for funding based on its consideration of all applicable eligibility factors.

Alignment with LAO’s strategic priorities

Every year, LAO establishes specific priorities for public interest work supported by test case program. These priorities may vary from year to year. They reflect LAO’s mandate, strategic goals and priority client strategies and are among the applicable eligibility factors the committee weighs when considering recommendations.


The committee considers these factors that relate to the significance of a case:

  • it raises novel issues not previously litigated
  • broad impact: it seeks a systemic remedy that can affect a large number of people, and not just an individual
  • serious importance to the development of the law: it pushes the boundaries of existing doctrine and/or it advances the law
  • capacity to improve access to justice and to advance or protect the rights of low-income Ontarians or of a vulnerable or disadvantaged group

Merit and anticipated impact

In considering the merit and anticipated impact of an application, the test case committee does not restricted itself to only matters likely to “succeed in court.” It considers whether a matter is likely to:

  • clarify or change the law
  • expand access to justice / expand the rights of low-income Ontarians / disadvantaged communities
  • result in positive change to systems or policies
  • resolve a number of existing or potential matters that raise the same issues
  • produce a remedy that will benefit other low-income clients/disadvantaged communities
  • bring attention to an important issue; raise public awareness
  • ensure that an important perspective is raised that would not otherwise come forward (but for LAO, would this case be heard /would this perspective be raised?)
  • empower marginalized groups by ensuring that their voice is heard
  • advance an LAO strategic priority
  • enhance the reputation of, and confidence in, the justice system
  • keep the door open for future claims, as part of a longer-term strategy


Applications for funding need to be of high quality. In considering applications LAO and the test case committee will consider these factors:

  • The facts of the case
  • The timing of the case
  • The characteristics of the litigant
  • Whether anyone else is better placed to bring the issue(s) forward
  • The skill and experience of the individual lawyer representing the litigant
  • The connection that the lawyer representing the litigant has established with recognized and respected community interests as well as other relevant experts

Cost-effectiveness and responsible use of public funding

Services supported by LAO’s test case program must be cost-effective, and must demonstrate responsible, accountable use of public funding. In addition to the quality, merit and anticipated impact of the application, the committee also considers cost-effectiveness in light of these additional questions:

  • Does this application represent a practical, realistic and cost-effective way to bring this issue forward?
  • Is another litigant currently litigating, or likely to litigate, the issue(s) raised by this case?
  • Is a decision in this case capable of resolving other (existing or potential) cases raising the same issue(s)?
  • If not for LAO, is this case likely to be heard?
  • Have pro bono contributions been secured or are they being sought?
  • Should partnering, mentoring or resource-sharing be considered as potential conditions for provision of test case program funding for this matter?

Financial considerations

Another factor to be considered is the financial circumstances of the applicant and/or proposed litigant. However, the committee will also take into account the larger goals of the litigation, and specifically, whether based on all public interest matter eligibility criteria, the applicant and/or litigant are well-situated to advance the case to the potential benefit of low-income Ontarians.

For individual litigants, the committee will consider these questions:

  • Is the litigant financially eligible under Legal Aid's financial criteria?
  • Can the litigant contribute financially or in other ways?
  • Are there other sources of funding or support which the litigant can secure?

For institutional litigants, the committee will consider these questions:

  • Can the institution fund the case within its existing resources?
  • Can the litigant contribute financially or in other ways?
  • Are there other sources of funding or support which the litigant can secure?

For legal clinics, the Regional Vice-President will first consider these questions:

  • Should the clinic fund the case within its existing resources?
  • Should the clinic contribute financially or in other ways?
  • Are there other sources of funding or support which the clinic can secure?


Individual applicants, groups of applicants, and organizational litigants (including agencies and associations) can apply to the test case committee. The committee will consider applications in any area of law, for any type of proceeding, and before any level of tribunal or court, that fit within the criteria below.

To receive such support, litigants can apply to LAO’s test case program. The test case committee meets monthly to assess each application and recommends whether or not to support it.

Test case committee meetings

Scheduled committee meetings for 2019

For further information

Marcus Pratt
Director, Policy and Strategic Research
Legal Aid Ontario