LAO to improve judicial review merit assessment process for refugee clients
Thursday, March 13, 2014
Effective March 24, Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) will begin phasing in significant interim changes to the judicial review and Refugee Appeal Division (RAD) merit assessment process for refugee claimants in response to feedback from the Refugee Lawyers Association and other stakeholders.
As an important preliminary step, beginning March 24, the following interim measures will apply to Federal Court judicial reviews as well as RAD matters:
LAO will provide eligible clients who need a RAD or judicial review merit assessment with the option to call LAO’s toll-free telephone line and arrange for staff merit assessment services in Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa.
LAO staff in Toronto’s Refugee Law Office will provide up to ten merit assessments weekly, staff in the Hamilton District Office will provide up to two assessments weekly and staff in the Ottawa Integrated Legal Services Office will provide up to two assessments weekly. Once the merit of their matter has been determined, clients can choose a private bar or staff refugee lawyer to manage their appeal.
If the services of LAO staff in Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa are insufficient to meet demand, LAO will consider hiring a private bar lawyer, on a contract basis, to do merit assessments.
LAO’s retroactive payment and private retainer policy implemented in September 2012 for judicial review opinions of Refugee Protection Division decisions will remain in place, as will LAO's retroactive payment and private retainer policy for RAD merit assessments.
As a next step, in Fall 2014, LAO plans to put a specialized merit assessment panel of LAO staff and/or private bar lawyers in place to conduct RAD and judicial review merit assessments for eligible refugee claimants. LAO will create this panel once it has implemented new appellate refugee quality standards.
LAO developed these interim measures in response to concerns raised by the Refugee Lawyers Association and other stakeholders. Some clients were unable to find service providers willing to assess the merit of a judicial review without assurance of legal aid payment, and some clients could not afford to pay for this service privately.
A quantitative and qualitative evaluation of the retroactive payment of judicial review merit assessments conducted by LAO found that some clients were not able to access service providers where the judicial review has merit – particularly in “grey” areas where there is some legal merit and likelihood of success but uncertainty regarding whether or not the Area Committee would recommend coverage.
For questions or further information, please contact:
Jawad A. Kassab
Executive Lead, Refugee Services Transformation
Legal Aid Ontario
Telephone: (416) 979-1446 x4705
Fax: (416) 979-2948