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News room/ 2022-2023

Highlights 2022-2023


50th ANNIVERSARY OF THE LEGAL AID NETWORK

The Legal Aid Act was assented to on July 7, 1972. This statute created and implemented a structure offering legal services accessible throughout Québec. The anniversary was celebrated at the eleven community legal centres and at the Commission des services juridiques. Events were organized for all network staff. A national event was also held in Québec City, in May 2023, with various partners from the legal, political and community spheres, as well as with the network’s founders, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Commission as a public organization.

In addition to promotional materials, a souvenir magazine was prepared to illustrate the history and evolution of the legal aid network, as well as the enhancement in the services offered over the years. The magazine was distributed to all employees and to our many partners.

DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION

Over the course of the most recently completed fiscal year, the Commission des services juridiques continued the modernization of its practices and the implementation of projects and initiatives under the eMAJ Program, which will run from 2021 to 2025.

The business statement entitled “Gestion du cycle de vie du dossier judiciaire de l’aide juridique” [legal aid case lifecycle management] was virtually completed as at March 31 and will be filed with the Dirigeante de l’information [chief information officer] of the Ministère de la Justice at the very beginning of the next financial year in anticipation of obtaining approval from the Ministère de la Cybersécurité et du Numérique.

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.

LEGISLATIVE AND REGULATORY AMENDMENTSBill 2 was passed by the National Assembly and became effective on June 8, 2022.

This Bill amended the Act respecting legal aid and the provision of certain other legal services so that the Commission des services juridiques will see to it that legal services are offered to a non-represented party, for the examination or cross-examination of the other party or of a child, where the court orders the appointment of a lawyer in accordance with art. 278 of the Code of Civil Procedure (chapter C-25.01) or orders that a child be examined or cross-examined by a lawyer under s. 85.4.1 of the Youth Protection Act (chapter P-34.1).

Bill 2 also amended the Act respecting legal aid and the provision of certain other legal services to provide that, henceforth, legal aid will be granted free of charge to any minor child for all services covered, regardless of the child’s financial means.

The Regulation respecting legal aid was also amended, on December 29, 2022, so that as of this date, legal aid applicants are only required to provide documentation in support of their financial eligibility upon request from a legal aid office. In addition, applicants who have been declared financially eligible within the twelve months preceding their new application do not have to provide this documentation again if they declare that their economic situation has not changed since their last application.

SERVICE FOR VICTIMS OF SEXUAL AND DOMESTIC ABUSE

Following the recommendations in the “Plan d’action spécifique pour prévenir les situations de violence conjugale à haut risque de dangerosité et accroître la sécurité des victimes 2020-2025” [2020-2025 specific action plan to prevent situations of domestic violence with a high risk of danger and increase the safety of victims] and the recommendations of the Comité d’experts sur l’accompagnement des victimes d’agressions sexuelles et de violence conjugale set out in its report entitled “Rebâtir la confiance” [rebuilding trust], on October 1, 2021, the Commission set up a free telephone and virtual legal consultation service for victims of sexual abuse and domestic abuse, regardless of their income. They are entitled to four hours of legal consultation in all areas of the law related to such abuse.

This legal consultation service, called “Rebâtir”, was made permanent by an amendment to Chapter III of the Act respecting legal aid and the provision of certain other legal services through the coming into force of Bill 92.

Management of the service has been entrusted to the Community Legal Centre of the South Shore region. It is composed of a team of 15 specialized lawyers located in various regions of Québec.

The Commission des services juridiques continued to participate actively in the implementation of the pilot projects for the establishment of a specialized sexual and domestic abuse tribunal. Over the past year, a protocol for collaboration was drawn up between the CAVACs (crime victims’ assistance centres) and the Commission des services juridiques concerning this specialized tribunal. This collaborative project aims to meet the need for legal representation of victims of domestic abuse by favouring personalized referrals from CAVAC’s socio-judicial liaison workers to permanent legal aid lawyers in situations where a safeguard order is necessary for the safety of the victims and their children.


INDEXATION OF THE ELIGIBILITY THRESHOLDS AND SUMMARY OF THE SUCCESSIVE INCREASES

On May 31, 2022, the eligibility thresholds for free legal aid were increased by 5.6%. This percentage is equal to the increase in the minimum wage on May 1, 2022. 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 $25,935 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 $42,531.

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 their 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 individual’s family and the individual’s financial situation. The eligibility scale for legal aid under the contributory scheme was also increased by 5.6%.

In summary, the enhanced legal aid financial eligibility criteria 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 17 years, for a person who is single, the scale changed from $8,870 to $25,935, an increase of 192.4%.In 17 years, for a single person, the maximum scale changed from $12,640 to $36,228, an increase of 186.6 %.

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 2022-2023 year, this number amounted to 24,920.


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 in 2019-2020 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.

During fiscal 2021-2022, a new collective agreement for office employees was signed with the regional centres affiliated with the CSN union.

In 2022-2023, a collective agreement was also signed with the CSN union representing the Saguenay-Lac Saint-Jean office employees. These collective agreements provide the network’s employees with working conditions comparable to those of employees in the public sector.

Negotiations are ongoing for the regional centres in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Montreal and Laurentides-Lanaudière on the financial aspects that are yet to be settled.

With respect to the legal aid network’s lawyers, an agreement in principle was reached with the Fédération des avocats de l’aide juridique du Québec (FAAJQ), and negotiations continued and intensified with the CSN union at the end of fiscal 2022-2023.

Moreover, work on maintaining pay equity 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 December 31, 2021.

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

The December 9, 2020 agreements on the tariffs of fees of lawyers in private practice provided for the establishment of an Independent Working Group (IWG) charged with making recommendations on the reform of the legal aid tariff structure. The group is chaired by Élizabeth Corte, former Chief Judge of the Court of Québec.

On July 9, 2021, the IWG filed a progress report containing 43 recommendations, some of which relate to the legal aid network’s digital transformation program (eMAJ), others which are administrative in nature because they concern the Commission and the regional centres, and yet others that will require regulatory amendments.

The following is the progress of the recommendations as at March 31, 2023:

  • 19 recommendations completed (44.2%), including regulatory amendments that came into force on December 29, 2022 and relax requirements for the documents applicants must provide to establish their financial eligibility for legal aid
  • 22 recommendations are in progress (51.2%) and relate primarily to the digital transformation of the legal aid network
  • only 2 recommendations have not yet been initiated (4.6%), as they depend on the aforementioned digital transformation.


The IWG filed its final report on May 27, 2022. The report contains 181 recommendations, of which 18 that were considered urgent were taken into account when the tariffs were modified on August 26, 2022.

A committee to follow up on the two reports was established and has held 10 meetings since September 15, 2022. With the agreements having expired on September 30, 2022, negotiations have resumed between the Barreau du Québec and the Ministère de la Justice in order to arrive at new agreements.

INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION

In collaboration with the Ministère de la Justice, the Commission des services juridiques welcomed France’s Garde des Sceaux [keeper of the seals] and Minister of Justice, Mtre Éric Dupond-Moretti, to its premises in November 2022, where a presentation was given on the Québec legal aid network and the Rebâtir service for victims of sexual and domestic abuse.

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© Commission des services juridiques Création: Diane Laurin - 2017