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News room/ 2020-2021

Highlights 2020-2021


DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION

The vision for modernizing the legal aid network is to provide citizens with quality, accessible and simplified services, supported by state-of-the-art digital solutions, innovative ways of doing things, employee engagement and the strength of the legal aid network. Modernizing the network will therefore make it possible not only to improve the quality and efficiency of services through new technologies and thereby enhance the experience of the various stakeholders, but also to free up capacity to better serve our clientele or consider new programs.

The past year saw the hiring of a director for the legal aid network’s digital transformation program.

Some foundational and developmental projects have begun and will run from 2021 to 2023.

It should be noted that, although the eMAJ program is not included in the plan for modernizing the justice system, its alignment with the various measures in the plan remains essential.


LEGISLATIVE AND REGULATORY AMENDMENTS

Bill 32 was passed by the National Assembly and became effective on June 5, 2020.

This bill amended the Act respecting legal aid and the provision of certain other legal servicesto include alternative dispute resolution services and services for avoiding court proceedings.

Services rendered before court proceedings are instituted will now be covered, including participation in private dispute prevention and resolution processes aimed at avoiding court proceedings and services for matters brought or to be brought before a court. 

Section 43.1 of the Regulation respecting legal aid (c. A-14, r. 2) was amended in order to add a new service, namely, the assistance of a lawyer when a person participates in a program for the non-judicial treatment of certain criminal offences.

Within the scope of the services mentioned in section 4.7 of the Act, except those in family cases, the introduction of a new section 43.2 in the Regulation respecting legal aid provides for coverage of services for participation in a collaborative law process or a mediation process. In the latter case, only services rendered by a lawyer or notary assisting the recipient are covered.

Existing section 4.10 of the Act, which grants legal aid for drawing up a document, was amended to remove the requirement that the consequences be “harmful”. Thus, from now on, a person who requires this service need only mention consequences for the person’s physical or psychological well-being or that of the person’s family.

Finally, the way in which the Review Committee operates has been modified.

Thus, applications for review no longer have to be sent by registered mail and those pertaining to a notice of refusal under section 70(a) (refusal to supply the information or documents required for the examination of the application) will now be heard by a single decision-maker instead of three.

Moreover the Regulation respecting the application of the Act to promote access to justice through the establishment of the Service administratif de rajustement des pensions alimentaires pour enfants was amended in order to expand and improve access to this service. Since these amendments came into force on July 3, 2020, the fees payable for the service were reduced to $50 and certain eligibility criteria were revised. The service is available to all parents, for a minimal fee ($50), within a short time frame and without having to go before the courts, thereby facilitating access to justice in family matters.



NEW TARIFFS OF FEES OF LAWYERS IN PRIVATE PRACTICE AND WORK OF THE INDEPENDENT WORKING GROUP (IWG)

After three years of negotiations between the Ministère de la Justice and the Barreau du Québec, two new agreements on the tariffs of fees of lawyers in private practice were entered into at the end of 2020.

As a result, the new tariffs came into effect on December 9, 2020, increasing the fees of lawyers in private practice in all areas of the law by 14.7%, for an estimated total of nearly $35 million over five years.

The Commission des services juridiques acted as an advisor to the negotiator for the Ministère de la Justice du Québec. 

The agreements (one in criminal and penal matters and the other in matters other than criminal and penal) also provide for a retroactive bonus of 5% for legal aid mandates entrusted between October 1, 2017 and May 31, 2019. As for the new tariffs, they have been in effect for mandates entrusted since June 1, 2019. The Commission des services juridiques paid the retroactive amounts in January 2021 to the lawyers entitled thereto.

In addition, they provide for the establishment of an independent working group to make recommendations on the reform of the legal aid tariff structure. The group is chaired by Élizabeth Corte, former Chief Justice of the Court of Québec.



TABLE JUSTICE-QUÉBEC

The partners of the Table Justice-Québec, of which the Commission des services juridiques is a member, mobilized to propose and implement concrete actions to deal with the effects of the pandemic.

The partners of the Table Justice-Québec worked together to identify innovative actions that would contribute to the efficient resumption of judicial activities in all areas and counter the increase in judicial delays, all for the benefit of citizens. The work carried out first took concrete form with the tabling of Bill 75, An Act to improve justice accessibility and efficiency, in particular to address consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, which includes a number of measures stemming from proposals made by the Table Justice-Québec.

In addition, the measures adopted by the Table Justice-Québec are included in the Plan d’action 2020-2021 : une justice de qualité, accessible et au service des citoyens [2020-2021 action plan: high quality and accessible justice at the service of citizens] and result from the work of three subcommittees (with the participation of members of several regional legal aid centres and the Commission), which proposed some 40 measures in civil, criminal, penal, family and youth matters. These measures fall under five main objectives:

  1. Adopt the measures necessary for the proper administration of justice due to the declared state of emergency;
  2.  Adopt efficiency measures to reduce delays and costs to citizens;
  3. Simplify the process for citizens;
  4. In criminal and penal matters, adapt the response of the judicial system; and
  5. Facilitate dispute resolution for better access to justice.


INDEXATION OF THE ELIGIBILITY THRESHOLDS AND SUMMARY OF THE SUCCESSIVE INCREASES

On May 31, 2020, the eligibility thresholds for free legal aid were increased by 4.8%. This percentage is equal to the increase in the minimum wage on May 1, 2020. 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, $23,842 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 $39,097.


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 4.8%.


In summary, the enhanced financial eligibility criteria for legal aid benefit 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.

  • In 15 years, for a person who is single, the scale changed from $8,870 to $23,842, an increase of 168.9%.
  • In 15 years, for a person who is single, the maximum scale changed from $12,640 to $33,304, an increase of 163.5 %.

The Commission des services juridiques developed tools to evaluate the number of cases which, 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 2020-2021 year, this number amounted to 19,704.



CONSULTATIONS


A legal aid network working group, consisting of 12 legal aid staff lawyers specializing in the representation of children in youth protection matters, was established. Two members of this group testified before the Commission spéciale sur les droits des enfants et la protection de la jeunesse (special commission on children’s rights and youth protection), chaired by Régine Laurent, a brief having been previously submitted by the legal aid network. More than 12,000 children are represented each year by legal aid staff lawyers, both in adoption and protection matters.


Another legal aid network working group, consisting of 12 legal aid staff lawyers specializing in administrative and social law, prepared a brief within the scope of the special consultations and public hearings on Bill 84 (An Act to assist persons who are victims of criminal offences and to facilitate their recovery).


Both briefs are available on the Commission’s website under the tab Legal information/Publications or by clicking on the following links:



WORKING CONDITIONS AND LABOUR RELATIONS

Given that the collective agreements for lawyers and office employees expired on December 31, 2019 and March 31, 2020, respectively, a single management negotiating committee was established for all of the negotiating tables. 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. Negotiations began on March 12, 2020 and, as of March 31, 2021, no less than 46 meetings had been held at the seven separate negotiating tables. Much progress has been made on the non-monetary aspects, and at the negotiating tables for office employees, negotiations on the financial elements have even begun.

Moreover, work on salary relativity was finalized during the past year, thereby ensuring internal equity between the various employment classes for all of the network’s employees, with effect as at April 2, 2019.


DEALINGS WITH PARTNERS AND INVOLVEMENT IN JUSTICE COMMITTEES

On March 14, 2020, the Commission des services juridiques was approached by the Minister of Justice and the Bâtonnier du Québec to set up, in collaboration with the Centre d’accès à l’information juridique (CAIJ), a COVID-19 legal clinic aimed at informing all Quebeckers about their rights in relation to the pandemic. 


From March 20 to May 29, 2020, the clinic received nearly 17,000 calls, including over 15,000 for legal consultations in all areas of law. More than 160 lawyers were involved, including 135 legal aid staff lawyers.


Together with the Court of Québec, the Ministère de la Justice, the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions and the Ministère de la Sécurité publique, the Commission participated in the implementation of a pilot project for appearances and bail hearings by videoconference for persons arrested and detained on weekends and statutory holidays. The pilot project began on April 28, 2020 in Montreal and Québec City and has now been extended to all judicial districts in Québec. 


More generally, beginning on April 7, 2020, the Commission, along with partners from the legal community, participated in the Comité sur la tenue des audiences virtuelles et semi-virtuelles, a committee on virtual and semi-virtual hearings aimed at developing such hearings. A Montreal operational committee in which the Commission also participates is more focused on hearings in health care institutions, particularly in the area of mental health.


In addition, in early April 2020, at the request of the Ministère de la Justice, the Commission participated in a committee tasked with suggesting post-COVID-19 amendments to the Criminal Code.


In early May 2020, in order to share issues common to our respective organizations, the Commission collaborated on a weekly basis with senior officials at the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions. On certain occasions, when the topics were appropriate, defence lawyers’ associations were invited to join the meetings to share their findings and transmit them to both the judiciary and the Ministère de la Justice.

The service agreement with Éducaloi was renewed for two years.

The Commission des services juridiques actively participated with partners in the following committees:

  • Association of Legal Aid Plans of Canada;
  •  Comité de parties prenantes du Bureau de la transformation organisationnelle (stakeholders’ committee of the organizational transformation office), including the Comité d’arrimage tactique et opérationnel (tactical and operational alignment committee) and a sub-committee;
  •  Comité Justice dans le Nord (Northern justice committee);
  • Steering committee and coordinating committee of the Programme d’accompagnement Justice et Santé mentale (PAJ-SM) (justice and mental health support program);
  •  Forum québécois sur l’accès à la justice civile et familiale (Québec forum on access to justice in civil and family law);
  •  Forum sociojudiciaire autochtone (Aboriginal socio-judicial forum);
  • Federal-Provincial-Territorial Permanent Working Group on Legal Aid (PWG);
  • Independent working group on legal aid tariffs (observer);
  • Groupe de travail sur la mise en place d’un tribunal spécialisé en matière de violences sexuelles et de violence conjugale (working group on the establishment of a specialized sexual assault and domestic violence tribunal);
  • Table Justice-Québec and sub-committees;
  • La Grande assemblée de l’Institut québécois de réforme du droit et de la justice (grand assembly of the Québec institute for law and justice reform).


THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

The most recently completed fiscal year was marked by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Commission des services juridiques took appropriate measures to protect the health and safety of its staff. It focused on teleworking as the optimal form of work organization to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, while allowing professional activities to continue. It ensured that the necessary security measures to protect its data were built into its computer systems.

The Commission continually updated its procedures to comply with the directives of the public health authorities, the CNESST and other government authorities.

During this period, the Commission des services juridiques also introduced temporary flexibility measures for the processing of legal aid applications and the payment of invoices for legal aid mandates accepted by lawyers in private practice; these measures will continue as long as the health emergency measures are renewed by the government.

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© Commission des services juridiques Création: Diane Laurin - 2017