Due to concerns initially raised by concerned lawyers, Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) is launching a six-month pilot project to help expedite legal aid applications, particularly for inmates who are stuck inside the justice system.
Focusing on the Toronto South Detention Centre, (TSDC) Canada’s 2nd-largest prison population, LAO’s new experiment (announced Sept 18) will allow lawyers to submit legal applications on behalf of their clients.
According to data from January 2017, inmates wait at least three weeks to access the video suite used to make legal aid applications, according to the Criminal Lawyers Association. The group says delays such as these are among a swath of barriers to justice faced by inmates in Ontario.
These concerns come on the heels of massive cutbacks being undertaken by the Ontario Liberals to deal with LAO’s $26 million deficit, which could mean less coverage and support for Ontarians who are not facing a “substantial likelihood of incarceration”. Opponents of these cutbacks indicate many impoverished people who do not fit this definition could be harmed by deportation, loss of income, and more.
Despite cutbacks, LAO appears to be conducting damage control. A recent press release has offered a number of statistics suggesting impressive accomplishments have been made throughout 2017.
For example, in January 2017, inmates waited 3 weeks on average to access the video suite used to make legal aid applications. Six months later, after LAO launched a sticker campaign and a phone line system, inmates were waiting just 48 hours to access the video suite inside the Toronto South Detention Centre.
Dubbed the Lawyer Inmate Request Form for Legal Aid Service, this new 2-page document is currently being distributed by the LAO for lawyers to fill out if they have clients who are serving time inside the TSDC.
uLawPractice’s Compliance Coding Team (CCT) is monitoring the effect this pilot project may have for Legal Aid practitioners in the near future. Automation specialists are considering implementing new features to accommodate lawyers who find themselves filling out these kinds of forms in the future.
“As providers of software geared for lawyers, being proactive in automation means keeping an eye on new strategies being undertake by entities like (the LAO),” says Terry Curtis, CEO of Superfluid Software Inc., uLawPractice’s parent company.
“At this stage we are waiting for feedback from the LAO to determine if we can expect a variation of the (Lawyer Inmate Request Form for Legal Aid Service) to become a province-wide phenomenon in the future.”
Just as it does with Accident Benefits forms in Ontario, uLaw Practice is looking to increase automation capabilities for lawyers who specialize in Legal Aid, says Curtis.