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News room/ 2019-2020

Highlights 2019-2020


DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION

Over the past year, the legal aid network retained the services of the firm Klynveld, Peat, Marwick and Goerdeler (KPMG) to start its digital transformation project. KPMG conducted an analysis of the existing situation and developed recommendations for implementing the transformation. To do this, it met with and surveyed staff of the legal aid network, spoke with lawyers in private practice, surveyed clients, and held a brainstorming day with several partners in the justice system as well the directorates of the legal aid network.

Some proposed foundational projects have begun, such as the establishment of the governance of the transformation program and the recruitment process for the program director. Several other foundational and development projects will continue over the coming year.


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. In June 2019, a draft agreement in principle provided for all the upward adjustments in the various areas of law. 


On July 11, 2019, the Barreau rejected this draft agreement in principle and negotiations were suspended. 


On February 26, 2020, the Barreau du Québec announced the arrival of Me Lucien Bouchard on its negotiating team. As at March 31, 2020, no agreement had yet been reached.


INDEXATION OF THE ELIGIBILITY THRESHOLDS AND SUMMARY OF THE SUCCESSIVE INCREASES


On May 31, 2019, the eligibility thresholds for free legal aid were increased by 4.17%. This percentage is equal to the increase in the minimum wage on May 1, 2019. 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, $22,750 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 $37,307.


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 4.17%.


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.


The following show the changes in the eligibility thresholds since the increases began in 2005:

  • In 14 years, for a single person, the scale changed from $8,870 to $22,750, an increase of 156.5%.
  • In 14 years, for a single person, the maximum scale changed from $12,640 to $31,778, an increase of 151.4%.

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 2019-2020 year, this number amounted to 22,651.


CONSULTATIONS


A legal aid network working group of 10 legal aid staff family law lawyers prepared a brief in the context of the Ministère de la Justice’s public consultation on family law reform. The brief is available at: https://bit.ly/2DOk2vc (french only).

Another legal aid network working group, consisting of 12 legal aid staff lawyers specializing in the representation of children in youth protection matters, submitted a brief with the children’s point of view to the Commission spéciale sur les droits des enfants et sur la protection de la jeunesse (special commission on the rights of children and on youth protection). You can consult he brief at the following address: https://bit.ly/3izFCCs (french only)

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Finally, a legal aid network working group was created in the context of the work carried out by the Comité d’experts sur l’accompagnement des victimes de violence conjugale et/ou d’agression sexuelle (experts’ committee on support for victims of conjugal violence and/or sexual assault). This group, made up of 11 lawyers from the network and the Commission des services juridiques specializing in family, criminal and youth protection law, presented a brief and made oral representations at a private consultation held in February 2020. Here is the link to consult the brief: https://bit.ly/31YUUKD (french only).



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.

Work on salary relativity continued during the past year, for the purpose of ensuring internal equity between the various employment classes for all of the network’s employees.


DEALINGS WITH PARTNERS AND INVOLVEMENT IN JUSTICE COMMITTEES


On May 17, 2019, the Young Bar of Montreal, in collaboration with the Commission des services juridiques and the Montreal Community Legal Centre, launched the “Guide d’organisation du travail et de facturation pour les avocats et avocates de pratique privée acceptant les mandats d’aide juridique” (work organization and billing guide for lawyers in private practice who accept legal aid mandates).

In November 2019, the Commission des services juridiques entered into a partnership agreement with the Québec bar school in regards to a pilot project for a clinical activity involving lawyers working in legal aid offices and students undergoing professional training. This activity allowed the students to learn certain professional skills through practical experience.


On March 4, 2020, the Commission des services juridiques participated in a luncheon conference organized by the Young Bar of Montreal on the fees and disbursements of lawyers in private practice who accept legal aid.


The service agreement with Éducaloi was in its second year of application.


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

  • Forum sociojudiciaire autochtone (Aboriginal socio-judicial forum);
  •  Comité sur la pleine justice au Nunavik (committee on full justice in nunavik);
  • Comité interministériel SMA sur les demandeurs d’asile (deputy ministers’interdepartmental committee on asylum seekers;
  • Forum québécois sur l’accès à la justice civile et familiale (Québec forum on access to justice in civil and family law);
  • Table ronde sur la justice participative-Barreau de Montréal (Bar of Montreal round table on participatory justice);
  • Appui à la création de l’Institut québécois de réforme du droit et de la justice (support for the creation of the Québec institute for law and justice reform).


INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION


From September 23 to 27, 2019, the Commission des services juridiques hosted a delegation of four representatives from the Burkina Faso Legal Aid Fund. The purpose of their visit was to obtain information on the Québec legal aid network in order to enable Burkina Faso to draw inspiration from Québec’s good practices in this area.


REGULATORY AMENDMENT


On October 1, 2019, s. 12 of the Regulation respecting legal aid was amended and now allows for the deduction from income of support payments received for the benefit of a child, up to $4,200 per year per child.


THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC


We cannot ignore the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our legal aid network since March 13, 2020. We would like to highlight the remarkable work done by legal aid network staff lawyers and office staff, who have provided essential services as defined by the courts and in accordance with the directives of the Government of Québec. In addition, we thank the 100 or so legal aid staff lawyers who participated in a free legal advice telephone line for citizens with questions about their rights and obligations in the context of the pandemic. The COVID-19 Legal Assistance Clinic was established by the Minister of Justice and the President of the 
Barreau du Québec, who mandated the Commission des services and the Centre d’accès à l’information juridique (CAIJ) to set it up. 

Moreover, during this period, the Commission des services juridiques introduced temporary flexibility measures for the payment of invoices for legal aid mandates accepted by lawyers in private practice and for the processing of legal aid applications.

































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© Commission des services juridiques Création: Diane Laurin - 2017