Legal Aid Ontario to cut spending on refugee and immigration certificates

Legal Aid Ontario has made plans to reduce the amount of money it spends on refugee and immigration certificates by $1 million this fall in a bid to tackle its deficit.

Starting Sept. 6, LAO lawyers will receive a certificate for a maximum of eight hours for an expedited refugee case. Refugee claimants and immigration clients who are employed and ineligible for legal aid while completing the refugee process will be reassessed to see if they might qualify for legal aid, and refugee certificates will be unbundled with certificate amendments up to a maximum of 16 hours.

Counsel will also receive one certificate that provides retroactive authorization of up to four hours for compiling and submitting information to support a judicial review, plus up to 15 hours to perfect the application. The certificate can also be amended to authorize up to an additional 12 hours to prepare for judicial review under the proposed changes.

“Between 2009 and 2012, LAO expenditures for immigration and refugee legal services increased by 24 per cent,” according to a statement from LAO. “Furthermore, LAO has spent far more on services to refugees than it receives in funding. In 2010/11 LAO spent $21 million for refugee and immigration services. LAO received approximately $7 million from the federal government for these services.”

According to LAO’s Quarterly Performance Overview, it spent $274 million year-to-date December 2011 compared to $266 million the previous year. Of that, roughly $17 million was spent on its refugee certificate program.

Tariff rates for top-tier lawyers in Ontario are currently $117.85 per hour, with refugee certificates increasing by nine per cent over the past two years.

As of Dec. 31, 2011, LAO forecast its annual overall operating deficit at roughly $1 million for 2011-12.

Tariffs have been a source of contention for lawyers who accept legal aid certificates in the past. Criminal lawyers boycotted legal aid for eight months in 2009, saying the rates were too low and the amount of work required to complete their matters exceeded LAO’s maximum hours.

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