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News room/ Highlights

Highlights 2017-2018


UPGRADING OF HUMAN RESOURCES – JUDICIAL WAIT TIMES

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 wait times 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 case (R. v. Jordan, 2016 SCC 27), establishing guidelines for determining what can be considered a reasonable delay: 18 months for cases heard before the Court of Québec and 30 months for cases heard before the Superior Court. 
At the end of 2016, in the wake of this judgment, the Government of Québec took concrete steps via a significant reinvestment in the justice system, allocating more than $175 over a period of four years and providing, among other things, for the hiring of staff in the office of the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions, within the judiciary and at the Ministère de la Sécurité publique as well as the addition of new courtrooms (Stratégie d’action gouvernementale visant à contribuer à la réduction des délais en matière criminelle et pénale [government strategy for reducing wait times in criminal and penal matters] ). 

Within this context, in December 2016, the Commission des services juridiques sent the Ministère de la Justice its Étude et présentation des besoins en ressources additionnelles [study setting out 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, and that case processing times must remain reasonable. 

As a result, pursuant to a May 16, 2017 decision of the Conseil du trésor made in keeping with the government strategy mentioned above, the Commission des services juridiques was authorized to hire additional resources: 20 lawyers and 27 office employees. As of March 31, 2018, all these staff positions had been filled.


INFLUX OF ASYLUM SEEKERS

Since July 2017, Québec has seen a significant increase in the number of asylum seekers from the United States.
At its height, up to 500 people per day were seeking asylum in Canada. Under normal circumstances, the Community Legal Centre of Montreal (CLCM) handles approximately 6,000 applications for asylum per year. In 2017-2018, it processed 12,000 applications for asylum. Ordinarily, there are 35 appointments per day. Since August 2017, the number of appointments per day has gradually increased to 90. In addition, there are clients without an appointment who, in accordance with section 38 of the Regulation respecting legal aid (CQLR, c. A-14, r.2), must have their eligibility for legal aid reexamined before their hearing on the merits.

Under these circumstances, additional temporary staff members were added: two lawyers and three support staff in August 2017 and two lawyers and three support staff in January 2018.

It should be noted that, due to insufficient rental space, it was not possible to hire all additional resources on a timely basis. A recent intervention with the Société québécoise des infrastructures will finally make it possible for the CLCM to have access to temporary premises.

In order to ensure that wait times for appointments do not exceed eight to ten weeks, as of July 2017, the CLCM opened one Saturday out of every two and asked certain employees to work two evenings per week; it also had to retain the services of a security firm to manage clients who were clogging up the building's hallways to the detriment of other tenants.

Until the summer of 2017, clients seeking asylum could get an appointment within two weeks, but wait times are currently six to eight weeks. With the additional rental space, it will be possible to hire the authorized additional staff and wait times for appointments should be kept down to six weeks.

As at March 31, 2018, a request to amend section 38 of the Regulation respecting legal aid (CQLR, c. A-14, r.2), supported by Québec's Ministère de la Justice, was being studied by the government. If the amendment passes, it will eliminate the obligation to have a recipient's financial eligibility reexamined within 15 days following receipt by the recipient of a notice of hearing before the Refugee Protection Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. 


INDEXATION OF THE ELIGIBILITY THRESHOLDS AND SUMMARY OF THE SUCCESSIVE INCREASES
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On May 31, 2017, 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 4.7%. This percentage is equal to the increase in the minimum wage on May 1, 2017. 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, $20,475 per year, is eligible for legal aid at no cost. Moreover, legal aid services are free to a family of two adults and two children whose income is less than $33,575.

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 offers a unique formula that allows individuals to be represented in court by a lawyer while knowing, in advance, the maximum amount of their legal fees and the costs that may be claimed from them. 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 was also increased by 4.7%.

In summary, the enhanced financial 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.

Here is the changes in the eligibility thresholds since the increases began in 2005:

  • In 12 years, for a single person, the scale changed from $8,870 to $20,475, an increase of 130.8%.
  • In 12 years, for a single person, the maximum scale changed from $12,640 to $28,599, an increase of 126.2%.
In addition, the Commission des services juridiques developed tools to evaluate the number of applicants who, were it not for the increase in the financial eligibility thresholds for legal aid since January 1, 2014, would not have qualified for legal aid. For the 2017-2018 year, the number of applicants amounted to 18,838.

WORKING CONDITIONS AND LABOUR RELATIONS

During fiscal 2017-2018, the Commission des services juridiques and the union representing its office employees signed a new collective agreement which will be in effect until March 31, 2020. The same is true for all the regional centres comprising the legal aid network. In order to promote a work-life balance, the Commission des services juridiques and the regional centres of Abitibi-Témiscamingue, the Lower St. Lawrence–Gaspé Peninsula, the Eastern Townships, the Mauricie-Bois-Francs, the Outaouais and the South Shore implemented a flexible work week pilot project. 

These collective agreements provide the network's employees with working conditions comparable to those of employees in the public sector. We hope they will also allow employers in the legal aid network to compete within the job market.

Given that the collective agreements for lawyers expired on March 31, 2015, the management negotiating committee representing the twelve employers in the network participated in negotiation sessions with the union representatives for the lawyers. While the monetary clauses are still under negotiation, an agreement in principle was reached on all matters involving normative aspects. 

Lawyers in the legal aid network are seeking continued overall pay parity with lawyers employed by the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions, without however asking for the same negotiation method.

Once again this year, the Comité cohérence (consistency committee) created by the Table des directeurs généraux (rountable of directors general) gathered to propose uniform methods, particularly as regards the hiring process.

In addition, the Commission des services juridiques is currently examining salary relativity. Work has begun with a view to ensuring internal equity between the various employment classes for all of the network's employees.

Lastly, in keeping with the Commission des services juridiques' desire to improve the efficiency and working conditions of its employees, a physical consolidation of services was carried out, providing staff with a stimulating work environment.


NEGOTIATION OF THE TARIFF OF FEES OF LAWYERS IN PRIVATE PRACTICE

The tariff of fees of lawyers in private practice expired on September 30, 2017. 

Negotiations began on December 19, 2017 between the negotiators appointed by the Ministère de la Justice and the Barreau du Québec and were still ongoing as of March 31, 2018. 

The Commission des services juridiques is advising the negotiator for the Ministère de la Justice du Québec and, for the first, is present at the negotiating table. 

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

During fiscal 2016-2017, a joint committee comprised of the Ministère de la Justice and the Commission des services juridiques 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 which, over the course of the most recently completed fiscal year, proposed to the Ministère de la Justice amendments to the Act and its regulations. Some of these proposed amendments are set out in Bill 168 (An Act to promote access to justice and increase its efficiency), which was introduced in the National Assembly on December 8, 2017.

DEALINGS WITH PARTNERS

Within the context of the election of the new president of the Barreau du Québec, the officers of the Commission des services juridiques invited each of the candidates to a meeting to find out their vision on access to justice.

On January 8, 2018, the Commission des services juridiques became a five-year partner in the research project entitled Accessing law and justice (ADAJ), presented to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada by Me Pierre Noreau, professor at the Faculty of Law of the Université de Montréal, with themes ranging from self-representation by citizens to mental health and justice.

On January 26, 2018, it entered into a partnership with the Office des personnes handicapées du Québec. The purpose of the partnership is to establish a network through which the partners can exchange information and share expertise so that their mutual clientele can benefit from the services and expertise each of them offer.

Lastly, the Commission is in discussions with the organization Éducaloi with a view to also entering into a partnership to manage and perpetuate the collaborative relationship that naturally unites them through their respective missions and the Act respecting legal aid and the provision of certain other legal services.

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© Commission des services juridiques Création: Diane Laurin - 2017