Legal Aid Eligibility and Coverage in Canada

Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank the Department of Justice Canada, with special thanks to Mr. Jeff Latimer, Senior Research Officer, Research and Statistics Division, for his support with this project.

Very special thanks to members of the provincial legal aid plans for their support throughout this project.

Executive Summary

The financial eligibility guidelines in use in all legal aid plans fall below low income levels as measured by the Statistics Canada Low Income Cut-Off (LICO). The extent to which the financial eligibility guidelines fall below low income levels varies considerably from one jurisdiction to the next. Depending on the jurisdiction, the percentage of poor adults aged 18 to 35 who would qualify for legal aid varies between 21% and 88%. Financial eligibility guidelines are income by family size grids, and these percentages would vary slightly from one family size category to the next.

It is recognized that the definition of poverty and the mediating effects of provincial social safety nets differ from one jurisdiction to the next. However, it seems clear that there is unequal access to legal aid across the country based on income level.

The figures above refer to free or non-contributory legal aid. Most legal aid plans have client contribution programs that provide legal aid on a contributory basis to the working poor. These additional income bands above the normal financial eligibility guidelines provide legal aid on a partial or full repayment basis to some people among the working poor.

Legal aid financial eligibility guidelines are updated periodically. However, they are typically not updated on a regular basis to keep pace with changes in economic indicators.

The two main conclusions drawn from this report are that legal aid eligibility guidelines are consistently below low income levels and that applicants for legal aid do not appear to have the same access to legal aid based on their income level.

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