Block Fees start May 1 for most common criminal charges
Posted on: Friday, April 16, 2010
Starting May 1st, 2010 LAO will begin paying lawyers block fees for the appropriate resolution of some of the most common criminal charges. The block fee will be a single, fixed fee or price for most of the lawyer’s work on an eligible case. The block fee will replace the hourly tariff system that LAO’s currently uses to pay eligible cases.
LAO will not be paying block fees on all criminal certificates. Rather, we will be starting with the most common and simple summary conviction charges, including assault charges where the Crown proceeds by summary conviction, fail to appear and fail to comply charges, mischief charges and theft charges.
A block fee will be paid for work done up to the appropriate resolution by way of guilty plea or withdrawal of an eligible charge. The fee will include payments for most of the “enhancements” and additional services available under the current tariff for these charges. The block fee will also include a payment for the most common disbursements. Block fee accounts will be submitted on LAO’s solicitor portal.
The block fee program implements a key provision of the recent Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG), the Criminal Lawyers Association (CLA), and Legal Aid Ontario (LAO).
The “pricing” of block fees is based on LAO’s current costs for these cases and will be increased to account for all relevant tariff increases. LAO is currently finalizing its estimates for block fees in consultation with the Criminal Lawyers’ Association. LAO will announce these amounts shortly.
LAO’s new block fee program will differ in several important respects from block fees during the Ontario Legal Aid Plan. Most importantly, LAO’s new block fee program will include new quality assurance tools and more protections against the risks of inappropriate volume billing and financial overruns. These measures will include a requirement that lawyers report on the outcomes of their certificates. LAO is also developing new audit, compliance, and panel management practices to ensure lawyers comply with applicable LAO policies and procedures.
Phasing In of Block Fees
The block fees rolled out on May 1st are the first phase of block fees for “standard” criminal cases. The MAG/CLA/LAO agreement commits LAO to studying the appropriateness of block fees for an expanded range of “standard” criminal cases, including block fees for trials. The second phase of the program, expected to start in 2011, will expand block fees to other “standard” criminal cases, including the remaining summary cases and many indictable matters.
The first phase of block fees is a “learning” phase and LAO is committed to consulting with the CLA and criminal lawyers over the course of the year to develop recommendations and amendments as appropriate. For example, LAO will work with the CLA and others to monitor and update quality standards or requirements based on the lessons from the first phase of the block fee program.
For lawyers accepting criminal certificates, block fees will ensure financial certainty and help their bottom line. Lawyers who assist LAO clients with the early resolution of criminal charges that are appropriate to be resolved, will be rewarded for their efficiency. For example, in a block fee system, a lawyer would be paid the same price for a guilty plea whether the plea takes place on the first court appearance or on the fifth court appearance. This provides a financial incentive for lawyers to resolve cases at the earliest appropriate time. Block fees will also reduce LAO “red tape”, speed up many LAO payments, and bring more clarity, transparency and fairness to LAO’s billing rules.
For LAO clients, the block fee program will ensure that lawyers assist them in the most expeditious and cost effective manner. Clients will be subjected to fewer appearances in set date courts. Clients who wish to resolve their matter quickly will benefit from an earlier resolution of charges that would inevitably be resolved. LAO will be implementing new quality assurance, panel management and billing rules to reduce risks associated with poor client service and volume billing.
Finally, the block fee program will support the provincial government’s Justice On Target strategy by helping to create a faster, more effective criminal justice system.
Further Information and Next Steps
LAO is currently consulting with the CLA and others on the final details of the first phase of block fees. LAO will be providing detailed information about the block fee program prior to May 1st.
For a listing a frequently asked questions regarding Block Fees please follow this link
For further information
If you have any questions or require further information regarding LAO and Block Fees please contact:
Manager, Communications and Media Relations
Director, Strategic Research