Ontario Attorney General announces increase in Legal Aid rates for private bar

By Terry Davidson

Last Updated: Wednesday, October 04, 2023 @ 9:38 AM

Law360 Canada (September 29, 2023, 5:04 PM EDT) -- Ontario will be increasing what it pays to private bar lawyers who take on legal aid cases, according to the province’s attorney general.

On Sept. 28, during the opening of the Ontario courts ceremony, Minister of Justice and Attorney General Doug Downie said the rates paid to private bar lawyers who take on Legal Aid Ontario work will increase by five per cent per year, over three years.

A spokesperson with Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General later clarified that the legal aid rate would increase by five per cent per hour, and that there will be similar increases in what is paid for “block fees,” as well. In addition, there will be an increase in the number of hours “allocated in certain proceedings.”

The increases come into effect Oct. 16.

Ontario Minister of Justice and Attorney General Doug Downey

Ontario Minister of Justice and Attorney General Doug Downey

“We talk a lot about legal aid; we talk a lot about helping people – where they are, and making sure they have what they need,” said Downey. “And I want to help support changes that will help ensure private bar lawyers continue to take on legal aid cases, and that Legal Aid Ontario continue to retain lawyers to do just that.”

Downey acknowledged that “the hourly and block fee rates in Ontario have not changed since 2015.”

“Many things have, the rates have not,” he said. “But today I’m happy to say that we have some good news to share on this front. Just over two weeks from now … the Legal Aid Ontario fees for private bar lawyers will be increasing.”

The increase would cover the areas of criminal, family and immigration law, he said.

“As someone who took legal aid certificates in private practice, I want to thank those who continue to serve clients this way – it is critical to our system that we have representation.”

Ontario lawyers who take on legal aid work – as well as others is the sector – have long been voicing concerns about the stagnation of legal aid rates. There have also been issues raised around the amount of time lawyers are given to complete certain tasks.  

Downey’s announcement is timely, given the ongoing spike in inflation and the overall cost of living.

A request for further comment sent to spokespeople for the Attorney General was not immediately returned.

According to the Legal Aid Ontario website, there are four different hourly rates paid to lawyers. The first three range from $109.14 to $136.43, depending on a lawyer’s experience. The fourth, which is for complex criminal cases, sits at $161.05.

Legal Aid Ontario has seen some dark days, particularly in late 2019, when the provincial government began making big funding cuts to the legal service provider. 

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for Law360 Canada, please contact Terry Davidson att.davidson@lexisnexis.caor 905-415-5899.