The CLA congratulates Legal Aid Ontario (“LAO”) on the billing changes that they announced today to ease the financial challenges our members are facing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The changes will assist our members and other service providers during this difficult and unprecedented time.

 Just last week, working collaboratively with LAO, the CLA and other organizations suggested that certain measures be taken to ease financial pressures created by the pandemic. LAO responded to our suggestions by announcing concreate measures that will assist our members to maintain their practices and continue to deliver essential services to our clients.

The announcement by LAO can be found here https://www.legalaid.on.ca/in-briefs/covid19-update-from-legal-aid-ontario-and-message-to-lawyers/

While implementation details need to be worked out, the highlights  as we understand them include:

  • A distribution of $ 17.8 million for payment of outstanding accounts on Friday March 27, 2020;
  • Movement to a 14-day payment cycle for accounts as opposed to 28-30 days;
  • Issuance of certificates for all in custody accused that will cover at the very least bail services – details to follow;
  • A streamlined approval system where counsel can provide financial information without the need for immediate verification by LAO;
  • Waiving merit testing for bail review.
  • Paying volunteer criminal lawyers who attended court March 16‑20, 2020;
  • Working on a temporary payment option for block fees which will allow counsel the choice of billing on an hourly basis so lawyers can bill for prep work prior to the conclusion of a matter and bill for resolutions where they were not in attendance.

Combined, these changes will not only provide much needed financial relief to criminal lawyers but will allow our members to work remotely to ensure that the justice system operates in a manner that minimizes health risks to our members while protecting the rights and interests of our clients.

The CLA also recognizes the financial commitment LAO has made at a time when it is facing extraordinary budget pressures. To take one example, given the rapid decline in interest rates, LAO expects to suffer an unanticipated reduction of approximately $25 million in its 2020 budget from Law Foundation funding — in addition to the cuts that occurred last year. The CLA is committed to working with LAO to stabilize Government funding to ensure that LAO has the necessary resources to assist low income Ontarians who cannot afford legal services. LAO has stepped up to the plate during this crisis with the measures announced today.

John Struthers
Criminal Lawyers’ Association

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