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News room/ De Facto union

Highlights 2016-2017


INDEXATION OF THE ELIGIBILITY THRESHOLDS

On May 31, 2016, pursuant to the Regulation to amend the Regulation respecting legal aid (O.C. 1280-2013, (2013) 145 G.O. II 3610, as amended by O.C. 385-2015, (2015) 147 G.O. II 823), the eligibility thresholds for free legal aid were increased by 1.90%. This percentage is equal to the increase in the minimum wage on May 1, 2016. Recall that on January 1, 2016, the legal aid eligibility thresholds had been increased, with the minimum wage as a reference point. 

Thus a person who is single and works a 35-hour week at minimum wage, namely, $19,565 per year, will be eligible for legal aid at no cost. Moreover, legal aid services will be free to a family of two adults and two children whose income is less than $32,081.

The Québec legal aid plan also includes a component for individuals whose income falls between the eligibility thresholds for free legal aid and the maximum thresholds requiring a contribution (contributory legal aid). The contributory scheme allows an individual to receive legal services if his or her income, assets and liquidities match the eligibility scale in effect and if the individual pays a contribution ranging from $100 to $800, depending on the composition of the person’s family and the person’s financial situation. The eligibility scale for legal aid under the contributory scheme also increased by 1.90%.

In summary, the changes to the eligibility criteria for legal aid affect working people with modest incomes as well as seniors whose principal source of income is their Old Age Security benefits and the Guaranteed Income Supplement. 

MODERNIZATION OF THE ACT RESPECTING LEGAL AID AND THE PROVISION OF CERTAIN OTHER LEGAL SERVICES

During the most recently completed fiscal year, a joint committee comprised of the Ministère de la Justice and the Commission des services juridiques, and chaired by Me Renée Madore, Associate Deputy Minister at the Ministère de la Justice, was established in order to modernize the Act respecting legal aid and the provision of certain other legal services and its regulations, particularly in light of the new Code of Civil Procedure which favours dispute prevention and resolution methods. This committee created an internal subcommittee within the legal aid network, of which the Vice-Chairman, the Secretary and the directors general of the community legal centres of l’Estrie, Montréal and the Outaouais are members.

MANAGEMENT OF LEGAL AID ELIGIBILITY

Last year saw a consolidation of the management of legal aid eligibility. The policy regarding the handling of applications was modernized, the eligibility software program and user guide were updated and the Commission developed training webinars and established a documentation policy, these are but some examples of the collective resourcesmade available to all professionals in the legal aid network in order to ensure the consistent and uniform handling of legal aid applications throughout the network.

 All those involved, at all levels of the legal aid process, were sensitized via thecommunication of expectations and the carrying out of verifications to the importance ofmanaging the legal aid system. 


DELAYS IN CRIMINAL AND PENAL MATTERS 

In March 2016, as part of the Table Justice-Québec, the Minister of Justice, Me Stéphanie Vallée, brought together all the relevant partners from within the legal system, including the Commission des services juridiques, to work on developing a strategy to reduce delays in criminal matters. On July 8, 2016, at which point the work was well underway, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered a very important ruling in a criminal matter (R. v. Jordan, 2016 SCC 27). The Court imposed new guidelines for the delay between the filing of charges and the end of the trial, in order to ensure that an accused is judged within a reasonable period of time. 


On December 7, 2016, the Minister of Justice presented a strategy arising from the Table Justice-Québec’s action plan which provides for massive investments of $175.2 million over four years, including the creation of 16 new positions for judges on the Court of Québec, the hiring of 45 additional prosecutors working for the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (DCPP), of which 15 have already been hired, the hiring of 60 support staff for DCPP prosecutors, a new courtroom in Montréal and two new courtrooms in Laval. 

In December 2016, the Commission des services juridiques sent the Ministère de la Justice a study setting out its needs for additional resources for the legal aid network. The foregoing was based on the fact that approximately 75% of criminal matters are handled within the legal aid system, either by legal aid staff lawyers or lawyers in private practice. As at March 31, 2017, the Commission des services juridiques was awaiting a favourable response to its request for 20 lawyers and 27 support staff. 

The Commission des services juridiques has and will continue to participate in the various forums on the modernization of justice which seek to implement the government’s strategy. 


NEGOTIATION OF COLLECTIVE AGREEMENTS

Given that the collective agreements for lawyers and office employees expired on March 31, 2015, a single management negotiating committee was established last year for all of the negotiating tables (4 negotiating tables for office employees and one negotiating table for lawyers) and, during 2016-2017, it participated in negotiation meetings with the union representatives for the office employees and lawyers. Its purpose is to ensure uniformity and consistency in the working conditions offered to all of the unionized professionals and employees in the legal aid network, taking regional considerations into account. 

The Vice-Chairman and the Secretary of the Commission des services juridiques are the committee’s spokespersons and are being assisted by the directors general of the Laurentides-Lanaudière, Montréal and Mauricie-Bois-Francs community legal centres. 

One of the major issues in this round of negotiations with the office employees is their work schedule. 

ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE OF THE COMMISSION DES SERVICES JURIDIQUES

During the 2016-2017 fiscal year, Me Denis Roy, who had been Chairman of the Commissiondes services juridiques for twelve years, retired. The Vice-Chairman, Me Yvan Niquette, was appointed Chairman and Me Daniel LaFrance, who held the position of Secretary of the Commission, was appointed Vice-Chairman. Me Richard La Charité, who was the Lawyer Delegated to the Review Committee, became Interim Secretary and Me Marie-Claude Marcil, who was the director of the Crémazie office of the Community Legal Centre of Montréal, took on the position of Interim director Delegated to the Review Committee. 

In addition, the Cabinet recently appointed four new Commissioners, namely, Me Amélie Binette, Me Johanne Brodeur, Me Marie-Josée Hétu and Me Nadine Le Gal. These nominations had been highly awaited, given that two meetings of the Commissioners had had to be cancelled due to a lack of quorum, which, according to law, is a minimum of seven members (including the Chairman and the Vice-Chairman). 


Following the retirement of Me Gilles Daoust, Director of the Research and Litigation Department, the Commission des services juridiques carried out a restructuring. The positions of Director of the Research and Litigation Department, Director of the Department for the Approval of Private Practice Fees and the Management of Certain Services Other than Legal Aid, and Director of the Service administratif de rajustement des pensions alimentaires pour enfants [child support recalculation service] (SARPA) were abolished. The position of Assistant Senior Director of Administration was created to combine all of these legal services under a single post. This legal managerial position is equivalent to that of Assistant Director General and is held by Me Odette Legendre. 

ACT RESPECTING WORKFORCE MANAGEMENT AND CONTROL WITHIN GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENTS, PUBLIC SECTOR BODIES AND NETWORKS AND STATE-OWNED ENTERPRISES (AWMC) 

On December 5, 2014, the Act respecting workforce management and control within government departments, public sector bodies and networks and state-owned enterprises (AWMC) (CQLR, c. G-1.011) came into force. 

The statute provides for control measures in relation to the staffing level of public bodies for each period specified by the Conseil du trésor. It also establishes special measures for service contracts that a public body intends to enter into during the periods subject to workforce control measures, including making such service contracts subject to the authorization of the Chairman of the Commission des services juridiques and giving the Chair of the Conseil du trésor oversight powers. 

For the third year in a row, within the scope of this statute, the Commission des services juridiques implemented various reporting mechanisms through which it will be able to determine whether the government targets have been met. 


INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION

On April 25, 2016, the Commission des services juridiques was host to a delegation of Ukrainian lawyers. The meeting provided an opportunity to discuss the differences between the Ukrainian and Québec legal aid systems. 

From February 7 to 11, 2017, the Commission des services juridiques welcomed a Belgian delegation composed of 10 lawyers in charge of legal aid offices. The purpose of the visit was to obtain information about Québec’s legal aid network and the Act respecting legal aid and the provision of certain other legal services and, in particular, to learn more about salaried lawyers. Delegation members visited the offices of the Commission des services juridiques, the St-Hyacinthe legal aid office, a private law firm in St-Hyacinthe, the Longueuil and Montreal courthouses and the immigration law legal aid office in Montréal. The delegation met, among others, with lawyers who are full-time legal aid employees and with the Associate Chief Justice of the Court of Québec, Youth Division. 


MAINTENANCE OF PAY EQUITY


Over the course of the previous year, the Commission des services juridiques completed its work related to maintaining pay equity for December 2011 and December 2016. 

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© Commission des services juridiques Création: Diane Laurin - 2017