Responses to recent media enquiries
LAO's transformation in Brantford
June 3, 2010
Re - Response to enquiries from the Brantford Expositor regarding LAO services in Brantford
Legal Aid Ontario provided the following information to the Brantford Expositor in response to an enquiry received May 31, 2010.
What is the current status of the Brantford legal aid office? Is it open? Closed? Partly open? Open for a specific purpose to direct clients elsewhere?
The Brantford Legal Aid office is currently open and will remain open to house LAO duty counsel staff. We have two staff duty counsel and one supervisor of duty counsel available, and we have recently hired a court-based worker and legal aid worker to assist the family duty counsel program.
In approximately two weeks, the LAO court-based worker currently based at 18A Darling Street will transition to a new office in the Brantford courthouse at 44 Queen Street, where she can provide services in a more convenient location for clients. Clients who are in court can quickly travel down the hall to apply for legal aid, rather than having to leave the courthouse, and return on another day.
If it is closed or soon to be closed, what are the options for people in need of or desiring legal aid services?
Legal Aid Ontario has phased out the old structure of legal aid application offices and moved to a new service model that provides expanded client access points that include a courthouse location, toll free legal aid phone services (1-800-668-8258), and our enhanced Legal Aid Ontario website. (www.legalaid.on.ca).
Our clients had been asking us for years to make legal aid services available over the phone from the convenience of home or familiar locations. Clients can now access more legal aid services than ever through this toll-free service, which allows them to apply for a certificate by phone and access other legal aid services such as summary legal advice, general information, and referrals to other social service agencies. The toll-free service can be accessed from anywhere in Ontario. No coins are required when calling from a payphone, and collect calls are accepted. Hours of operation are Monday to Friday, 8:00am to 5:00pm.
The overwhelming response -- nearly 20,000 people contacted us toll-free for legal aid assistance in April -- demonstrates the popularity of the new service model, which also includes 40 Legal Aid Ontario courthouse locations where vulnerable clients especially can get in-person assistance.
We've also made it easier and faster for clients to apply for a legal aid certificate. LAO has introduced a simplified application process for clients. This process reduces the time required to complete an application by 62 per cent and frees up resources that can be reinvested in direct client services. Sixty four per cent of clients receive a same day decision on their legal aid application, which allows them to begin moving forward with their legal matters. For instance, of the 1558 applications taken last year in Brantford, 829 were eligible for SOAP, the simplified online application process used by the client service centre.
LAO is committed to maintaining in-person service to clients who are unable to apply by phone. Vulnerable and special needs clients will get in-person assistance in Brantford through LAO’s court-based staff or at the 18A Darling Street location if they are unable to visit the courthouse. Clients can also visit our revised website to access to information about legal aid services, and other online resources and information. Legal Aid Ontario revised and re-launched its bilingual website in November 2009. Since launching, the site has had more than 345,000 visitors, and one and a half million page views.
In 2009, LAO served over 10,000 clients through our Brantford duty counsel lawyers. The new court-based LAO office in Brantford will provide even more support to clients.
If telephone applications are an option, what can be done for a person in need of legal aid who is illiterate, or cannot speak or read or write English, or is deaf?
Legal Aid Ontario is committed to providing our clients with the information that they need, when they need it. Our toll-free legal aid service offers legal aid assistance and information in 120 languages, including 18 aboriginal languages and dialects, through simultaneous interpreting services.
The toll-free service eliminates the challenges posed by language fluency and transportation issues, a major problem in rural areas. This also cuts down on the number of missed appointments, which allows clients to get the services they need and to proceed with their legal matters more quickly. LAO’s toll-free service also offers TTY services for hearing impaired clients.
LAO understands the unique vulnerability of some of our clients and has always placed a priority on their needs. Legal Aid Ontario’s new service delivery model – which provides a wider range of legal aid services over the phone, online and in courthouses – gives vulnerable clients priority assistance at any point of contact.
What plans, if any, are in the works for an assessment office in the Brantford courthouse? When will it be finished? When will it be open? How will it be staffed? What will be the hours of operation?
In approximately two weeks, the LAO staff courthouse office will be open in the courthouse at 44 Queen Street. Hours of operation will be Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 4:00pm. Similar to the current legal aid office, the courthouse office will provide in-person assistance to clients who are in court that day, and access for our more vulnerable clients. Clients will be able to receive assistance in filling out an application, and information about the court processes. Staff will also provide support to duty counsel and coordinate with other agencies for referrals, which will help to deliver our services more efficiently and effectively. LAO will inform Brantford area clients and stakeholders when the staff courthouse office is open.
Duty counsel lawyers continue to be available each day in both Brantford courthouses to assist clients on the day they are scheduled to appear in court.
How is the closing of the local office expected to impact the local justice system? Are delays expected? Any other implications, positive or negative? How will negative implications be improved?
Over the last 3 years, LAO has been increasing the use of technology to help improve our processes and reduce our administrative costs, invest savings in direct client services, and expand client access. LAO’s new service model is making it easier and faster for clients to get the help they need in Brantford and across Ontario.
Having an office at the courthouse is a convenient way to assist people when and where they need help. Clients who are in court can quickly travel down the hall to apply for legal aid, rather than having to leave the courthouse, and having to return to court on another day. Having legal aid staff in the courthouse supports the Ministry of the Attorney General’s Justice on Target strategy to reduce court delays by 30%. It allows LAO to deliver services more efficiently and effectively, and help our clients to resolve their matters faster.
Were all local legal aid "area director" positions terminated? As of what date? Will there be some sort of equivalent position initiated under the new system?
LAO has implemented a ‘district model’ to improve the coordination and accountability of legal aid services by restructuring the traditional area office model of 51 local offices into 9 larger districts. Brantford is now part of the Hamilton-Kitchener District which includes Brantford, Hagersville, Guelph, Simcoe, St. Catharines, Hamilton, Kitchener and Halton Region.
The local part-time retained area director’s retainer ended on March 31st. As part of LAO’s new district management structure, our new Hamilton-Kitchener District Area Director is now responsible for legal aid services in Brantford and the surrounding area. Having one director manage one larger district also provides more flexibility and consistency in meeting client needs.
Carmelo Runco is the District Area Director for the Hamilton-Kitchener District and oversees all legal aid services in Brantford. Mr. Runco practiced law in Brantford from 1994 to 2000.
Based on statistics from the Brantford-Brant County-Six Nations area, how many clients did the legal aid office in Brantford serve on average in a year, or in a month? Have you got a breakdown of numbers showing separate statistics from Brantford, Brant County and Six Nations? Have you got statistics showing the numbers of clients served per year over the past 10 years? or longer?
Since January 1st 2010, the Brantford legal aid office has processed 585 applications for clients in the Brantford-Brant County-Six Nations area. In 2009, the Brantford legal aid office served 1307 clients, 146 of whom identified themselves as Aboriginal.
From 2004 to date, the Brantford legal aid office has processed 12,409 applications for clients in the Brantford-Brant County-Six Nations area.
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