LAO also introduced changes to change-of-solicitor policy and to duty counsel worksheet
The new Legal Aid Services Act, 2020, recently passed by the Ontario Legislature, introduces a modernized framework for Legal Aid Ontario.
Passed as a part of Bill 161, the Smarter and Stronger Justice Act, 2020, the new legislation seeks to enable LAO to work alongside services providers to more speedily develop and adapt legal aid services and policies. The Act also aims to do away with red tape and to improve the independent corporation’s flexibility in updating its own systems and processes.
LAO emphasized that its goal to offer legal aid services in the areas of criminal law, family law and refugee law to low-income Ontarians remains the same despite the new framework.
“Nothing is changing in terms of who we serve and why we do what we do,” said Charles Harnick, chairperson at LAO.
LAO and its staff will consult with its fellow service providers such as legal clinics, student societies offering legal aid services and members of the private bar, as well as with stakeholders and with the Ministry of the Attorney General, to advance the work toward implementing this new framework. The Act comes into force at a date following the completion of this work.
Other updates announced by Legal Aid Ontario
LAO is temporarily amending its change of solicitor policy to automatically approve first requests for a change of solicitor when made by accused persons in custody, except if a Big Case Management case is involved. This change, which was made for the benefit of in-custody accused individuals who are subjected to disproportionate risk amid the COVID-19 pandemic, applies regardless of when the application was made.
Effective July 27, LAO has introduced changes to its duty counsel worksheet so that it can be more easily filled out, with “less duplication, less data entry.” The improvements include a new client consent-to-contact box, a new option to record a second or alternative client contact number, an expanded character limit for the comment box, a change in the placement of the arrest and incident date fields for easier access and the addition of a duty counsel worksheet icon to the primary launch page. In the main menu, “Duty Counsel (DC) Navigation” has also been renamed to “Duty Counsel Worksheet.”