Legal aid plans have been established in all provinces and territories with the common goal of assisting lower-income Canadians who require legal services either for criminal or civil matters. This report presents results from the Legal Aid Survey which collects information on the operation of Canada's 13 legal aid plans.

It is important to note that not all survey elements are reported by each of the legal aid plans, and that not all legal aid plans have reported data in each of the five years covered by this report. In particular, for the most recent year, 2010/2011, the legal aid plan in the Northwest Territories provided limited results and Nunavut no results.

Funding of legal aid

In order to operate and provide legal services, legal aid plans receive funding from three main sources: governments (both federal and provincial/territorial); contributions from clients and cost recoveries from legal settlements; and contributions from the legal profession. 1  Data on provincial/territorial government financial contributions are obtained from the appropriate departments responsible for justice matters. Justice Canada provides the figures for federal contributions. Information on total funding is provided by the legal aid plans.

  1. The federal government contributes directly to the cost of criminal legal aid. In 2010/2011, the federal government reported providing a total of $112 million to the thirteen provincial/territorial legal aid plans. After adjusting for inflation, this figure was down slightly (-2%) from the year before (Table 2).
  2. Provincial and territorial governments directly fund both criminal and civil legal aid. The thirteen provincial/territorial governments reported contributing $563 million to legal aid plans in 2010/2011. This represented a 1% increase from the previous year (after inflation) and marked the sixth consecutive annual increase. In 2010/2011, funding was up in seven of the thirteen jurisdictions (after inflation) (Table 3).
  3. Total funding of legal aid includes government funding, contributions from clients and legal settlements, and contributions from the legal profession. The twelve plans that provided data (excludes Nunavut) reported receiving funding of more than $736 million in 2010/2011. Government sources contributed the vast majority of this amount at 93% of the total (Table 1). 2 

Legal aid spending

Legal aid plans spend money providing direct legal services, such as legal representation, legal advice, and information, for both criminal and civil cases. Other expenditures by legal aid plans include money spent on administrative costs. Expenditures in a given year do not necessarily match funding for that year for several reasons including the use of reserve funds.

  1. In 2010/2011, legal aid plans spent $752 million providing legal aid services in eleven provinces and territories (excludes Northwest Territories and Nunavut), which amounts to about $22 per resident. In the nine provinces and territories that provided data for both 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 (also excludes Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick), legal aid spending was down about 3% from the previous year after adjusting for inflation (Table 4).
  2. Eight of eleven legal aid plans spent more on criminal matters than civil matters in 2010/2011 (excludes Northwest Territories and Nunavut). The three legal aid plans that spent less on criminal matters were in Quebec, Ontario and Prince Edward Island. Quebec allocated 44% of its direct expenditures to criminal matters, Ontario 47%, and Prince Edward Island 48%. In the other eight reporting jurisdictions, the proportion spent on criminal matters ranged from 55% for New Brunswick to 74% for Saskatchewan (Table 6).

Applications for legal aid

The number of applications that legal aid plans receive for legal assistance provides only a general indication of the demand for legal aid. Coverage and eligibility requirements impose restrictions on the types of cases that will be taken on by legal aid plans, and hence are likely to limit the number of applications submitted.

An applicant may be approved for either summary or full services. Summary services include the provision of legal advice, information, or any other type of minimal legal service granted to an individual during a formal interview. Full services constitute more extensive legal assistance.

  1. About 670,000 applications for legal aid were submitted to legal aid plans in ten reporting provinces and territories in 2010/2011 (excludes Alberta, Northwest Territories and Nunavut). Civil matters accounted for over half (56%) of applications received (Table 10).
  2. Legal aid plans in ten reporting jurisdictions (excludes Alberta, Northwest Territories and Nunavut) approved approximately 449,000 applications for full legal aid services in 2010/2011. Criminal matters accounted for over half (55%) of approved applications (Table 12). Applications not approved for full legal aid service may receive summary services instead. (The Legal Aid Survey does not collect information on the total number of applicants who receive summary services).

Legal aid staff

Legal aid plans may use private and/or staff lawyers to provide legal services to clients. In most jurisdictions the client has the right to choose counsel, either staff or private, from a panel of lawyers providing legal aid services. The proportion of services provided by private and staff lawyers varies by jurisdiction, and often by type of matter (criminal or civil).

  1. In the twelve reporting provinces and territories (excludes Nunavut), approximately 10,000 lawyers from both the private sector and legal aid plans provided legal aid assistance in 2010/2011. Private lawyers accounted for 87% of those providing legal aid services, while legal aid plan staff lawyers accounted for the remainder (Table 20).
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