Legal aid in Canada, 2013/2014

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by Manon Diane Dupuis

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Access to justice in Canada is a priority of governments, policy-makers, legal professionals and the public (Department of Justice Canada 2014). One aspect of access to justice is access to legal services. Not all Canadians have the resources to pay for a lawyer. 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 (Department of Justice Canada n.d.). This Juristat bulletin presents results for 2013/2014 of the Legal Aid Survey, which collects information on the operation of Canada’s 13 legal aid plans.

Legal aid plans receive funding to operate and to provide legal services from governments (both federal and provincial or territorial), as well as from client contributions, cost recoveries from legal settlements, and from contributions from the legal profession and other sources.

The federal government provides funding for legal aid to the provinces and territories. According to data from the Legal Aid Survey, the federal government, through the Department of Justice Legal Aid Program, reported providing a total of $112 million to the provinces and territories for the delivery of criminal and civil legal aid.Note 1,Note 2

Provincial and territorial governments directly fund both criminal and civil legal aid. In 2013/2014, provincial and territorial governments reported contributing $643 million to legal aid plans across Canada.Note 3

Legal aid plans in Canada reported receiving funding of $823 million in 2013/2014 (Table 1). Government sources contributed the vast majority of this amount—92% of the total. The remaining 8% of funding was received from client contributions, cost recoveries from legal settlements, and contributions from the legal profession and other sources.

A majority of jurisdictions spend more on criminal matters

According to the Legal Aid Survey, legal aid expenditures consist of direct costs for legal services, such as legal representation, legal advice and the provision of information for both criminal and civil cases. Legal aid expenditures also include other expenditures, such as administrative costs.Note 4

In 2013/2014, legal aid plans spent just over $814 million providing legal aid services (Table 1). Consistent with past results, most legal aid plans spent more on criminal matters than on civil matters. In 2013/2014, Prince Edward Island (44%), Quebec (46%) and Ontario (47%) allocated a smaller proportion of direct expenditures to criminal matters than to civil matters. In the 10 other reporting jurisdictions, the proportion spent on criminal matters ranged from 53% for New Brunswick to 77% for Nunavut.

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Legal aid services

In Canada, legal aid services are provided through separate legal aid plans in each province and territory. The services provided by legal aid plans may include legal representation, advice, referrals, and information services. Generally, all legal aid plans cover both criminal and civil cases, although the extent of coverage varies among the provinces and territories.

The provinces and territories contribute to the costs of legal aid service delivery, but the legal aid plans are responsible for determining eligibility for legal aid, the types of matters they will cover, the delivery of services, and the operation of their respective plans.

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Just over 465,000 applications for full legal aid services were approved in 2013/2014

An application may be approved for either summary or full legal aid 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 represent more extensive legal assistance. Applications not approved for full legal aid services may receive summary services instead. The Legal Aid Survey does not collect complete information on the total number of applications that receive summary services. Applications may be refused for full or summary services due to financial ineligibility, coverage restrictions, lack of merit or other reasons, such as cancellation by the client.

About 718,000 applications for legal aid were submitted to legal aid plans across Canada in 2013/2014 (Table 1). Just over 465,000 applications were approved for full legal aid services in 2013/2014. Civil matters accounted for over one-half (56%) of received applications, while criminal matters accounted for over one-half (58%) of approved applications.

Legal aid plans may use members of the private bar or staff lawyers to provide legal services to clients

Legal aid services are provided by either members of the private bar, staff lawyers of legal aid plans or a combination of both. The proportion of services provided by members of the private bar and staff lawyers varies by jurisdiction and often by type of matter (criminal or civil).

Across all provinces and territories in Canada, just over 10,000 lawyers from both the private bar and legal aid plans provided legal assistance in 2013/2014 (Table 1). Private bar lawyers accounted for 85% of those providing legal aid services, while staff lawyers accounted for the remainder, 15%.

Further information and source data

Data for 2013/2014, as well as historical data for the Legal Aid Survey, are available on CANSIM in tables 258-0001 (Legal aid plan revenues); 258-0004 (Legal aid service delivery, by type of lawyer); 258-0005 (Federal government contributions for legal aid); 258-0006 (Provincial and territorial government contributions to legal aid plans); 258-0007 and 258-0008 (Legal aid plan expenditures); 258-0009, 258-0010 and 258-0011 (Legal aid applications); 258-0012 (Legal aid plan personnel); 258-0013 (Duty counsel services); 258-0014 (Appeals); and 258-0015 and 258-0016 (Cases processed under the interprovincial reciprocity agreement).

For more information on the Legal Aid Survey (definitions, data sources and methods), please refer to the survey web page.

Detailed data table

Table 1 Legal aid in Canada, 2013/2014


Department of Justice Canada. 2014. 2014-15 Report on Plans and Priorities. Last updated January 23, 2015. (accessed March 12, 2015)

Department of Justice Canada. n.d. Legal Aid Program. Last updated January 01, 2015. (accessed March 12, 2015)


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