Legal Aid Ontario: Myths and realities
Posted on: Friday, January 18, 2013
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 you’d like clarified? Submit the form at the bottom of this page to have your questions answered.
Added February 20, 2013
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, LAO’s 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.
- LAO’s 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.
Since the start of the fiscal year (1 April 2012) – LAO has issued 14,711 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 LAO’s duty counsel service – Results from the 2012 LAO Annual Client Satisfaction Survey showed that 96.7 % 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 LAO’s Mental Health Strategy began in October 2012. The strategy will build on LAO’s current initiatives and in consultation with stakeholders. Consultations are expected to begin in Spring 2013.
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.