A Profile of Legal Aid Services in Family Law Matters in Canada
- 2.7 Manitoba
The legal aid system in Manitoba is a combination of staff lawyers and the judicare model. Legal Aid Manitoba comprises five administrative areas – in Winnipeg, Brandon, Dauphin, Thompson, and The Pas. The largest of these, Winnipeg, has six community law offices and a public interest law centre. One of the community law offices is a family law office that focuses on domestic and administrative law. The service is provided by both lawyers and paralegals.
Once applicants are given a legal aid certificate, they have the option of choosing any lawyer on the legal aid panel, which includes both staff lawyers of Manitoba Legal Aid and members of the private bar. The legal aid program in Manitoba is funded by Manitoba Justice and the Manitoba Law Foundation, with some funding from other sources such as the federal government, and contributions from individuals awarded certificates.
Following an analysis of the applicant’s financial situation, a legal aid certificate is issued if the case is deemed to have merit. Family law issues that may be covered by legal aid in Manitoba are: divorce, separation, custody/access, maintenance and enforcement, child protection, adoption, parentage proceedings, amicus, and private guardianship.
Applicants may be granted either complete coverage or partial coverage, in which case they are required to make a financial contribution. In 1988/89, Legal Aid Manitoba made arrangements with the provincial and federal governments to fund a pilot project called the "Expanded Eligibility Program." This program allows applicants for legal aid who are somewhat above the income eligibility cut-offs to obtain legal aid on the condition that they will repay the full amount of costs to the plan. Since fees for lawyers are considerably lower through legal aid, this program allows individuals to obtain legal services at a much lower rate than they would otherwise pay. This program is intended for the working poor and has now become a permanent component of Legal Aid Manitoba.
Family income, including that of the applicant’s spouse, and family size are used when determining eligibility for legal aid in Manitoba. The gross annual income cut-offs used for determining eligibility are determined by the Board of Legal Aid Manitoba. Examples of the 2000/01 eligibility guidelines are: single person – $14,000 (fully eligible); $16,000 (partial contribution required), $23,000 (full contribution required); two persons in family – $18,000 (fully eligible), $20,000 (partial contribution required), $27,000 (full contribution required); three persons in family – $23,000 (fully eligible), $25,000 (partial contribution required), $31,000 (full contribution required); and four persons in family – $27,000 (fully eligible), $29,000 (partial contribution required), $34,000 (full contribution required).
When making a determination of eligibility for legal aid, factors other than income may be taken into account. These factors include whether they would be able to obtain counsel without having to sell their principal residence or assets necessary for their work; current assets and liabilities; merit and amount of the claim; cost of the proceedings; and whether or not a reasonable person who could pay a lawyer would do so in the case.
Manitoba has introduced full service duty counsel for child protection matters. As a result, it is expected that the number of cases referred to the private bar will decrease, with a subsequent saving to legal aid.
It should be noted that the number of amicus certificates issued to the private bar has decreased since the Board of Directors made a decision in April 2001 to discontinue coverage where the amicus was a result of a court appointment.
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