Fair Representation

OmbudsPEI received two complaints alleging that Legal Aid unfairly denied or cancelled their applications for representation. One complainant was initially accepted, however their first meeting with their Legal Aid lawyer ended abruptly after only a few minutes with the Legal Aid lawyer deciding they wouldn’t represent the complainant after all. No reason for this was provided and the complainant was required to represent themselves in court later that day. When the complainant contacted Legal Aid again to ask for a reconsideration of its decision, they were told that they were no longer financially eligible for assistance.

OmbudsPEI reached out to Legal Aid for an explanation of its decisions. We were told that Legal Aid believed the complainant was receiving income which they did not disclose on their application. After OmbudsPEI facilitated a means for Legal Aid to verify this suspicion, it changed its decision, though it required the complainant to find their own lawyer for which Legal Aid would pay. When the complainant attempted to do this, they were informed by the law offices they contacted that it was unusual for Legal Aid to require an applicant to find a lawyer on their own without at least the assistance of Legal Aid. The complainant believed this caused every lawyer they contacted to refuse them representation.

Not long after we asked for an explanation for why Legal Aid was requiring the complainant to find a lawyer on their own, Legal Aid decided to represent them once again. No explanation was provided for this change in decision.

A separate complaint was made by an inmate at the Provincial Correctional Centre with an upcoming trial date. They explained that their initial application for Legal Aid was denied outright without explanation. When we contacted Legal Aid, they explained that the inmate was not financially eligible and that their case did not have merit. Through consultation with our office, Legal Aid committed to providing its explanation in writing. Before this occurred, however, Legal Aid decided to accept the complainant.

Not long thereafter, we were informed that Legal Aid had stopped representing the complainant. Again, the complainant told us that they were not provided an explanation for this decision. When we inquired with Legal Aid about this, we learned that there had been a change in management at Legal Aid and that the complainant’s application was being re-assessed. Legal Aid then re-accepted the complainant for service and represented them at trial.

Legal Aid recognized problems with how both complainants were treated. Specifically, it acknowledged that the reasons for variously denying and accepting both complainants were problematic and that no reasonable explanations had been provided to either. Legal Aid committed to preventing this from occurring in the future by developing a process for having all denials reviewed by someone other than the lawyer denying the applicant to ensure that reasons for any denial align with policy. This process also requires that adequate explanations are provided to people denied service.

Additionally, Legal Aid recognized, on its own initiative, that its eligibility thresholds and guidelines required updating. A comprehensive review was undertaken in 2022-2023 which led to the development of new policies and procedures which took effect April 1, 2024. Together with the new process for reviewing denials, OmbudsPEI believes the changes instituted at Legal Aid will improve fairness in the delivery of its services.