Effective February 1, 2023, The Legal Aid Act amendments (set out in Bill No. 46) will be in force. To coincide with those changes, Legal Aid Saskatchewan (LAS) has also developed service rules for our private bar panel members.
The amendments to the Act include several “housekeeping” and other improvements such as updating definitions, terms, and references.
More importantly, the amendments also provide more specific powers to LAS in determining and maintaining the composition of the panel of lawyers providing legal aid services in Saskatchewan and in making terms and conditions respecting those panel members providing services.
Prior to the amendments, The Legal Aid Act provided that a member of the panel could only be removed for just cause. The amendments now specifically provide that a lawyer does not remain on the panel if they cease to be an employee of LAS, if they are no longer engaged in the practice of law, if they are removed from the panel for reasons set out in the terms and conditions established by LAS, or if they withdraw from the panel.
Further, prior to the amendments, The Legal Aid Act provided for the establishment of guidelines, procedures and requirements to which solicitors or other persons retained under the Act provide legal services. The amendments now specifically allow for the establishment of terms and conditions respecting the designation of a lawyer as a member of the panel, the removal of a lawyer from the panel and creating a withdrawal process where a lawyer seeks to withdraw services on a file.
Development of Service Rules
The panel of lawyers providing legal aid services is made up of lawyers, who are employees of LAS, and private bar lawyers, who are paid under a tariff of fees.
The terms and conditions relating to the provision of legal services by lawyers who are employees of LAS are primarily governed through a collective bargaining agreement between LAS and the union representing staff lawyers, and through LAS’s policies and procedures governing the conduct of their employees, which includes a Code of Conduct. The private bar lawyers on the panel are not subject to these terms and conditions.
Consequently, as LAS needs to ensure there are similar expectations in place for all panel members with respect to the delivery of legal services, service rules have been developed for our private bar panel members. The rules provide clarification with respect to several matters.
The rules provide detail with respect to the application process by private bar lawyers to be designated on the panel, the terms and conditions that can be placed on the panel member’s authorization, the obligations of panel members in the provision of legal aid services and the authority of LAS to suspend or remove a panel member in certain situations.
The rules reflect our continued commitment to the support and development of all our private bar panel members by providing training and professional development opportunities. In some cases, this process will also allow for the conditional enrollment on the panel by applicants who do not currently meet experience requirements.
The rules also provide a process by which a private bar panel member may apply to withdraw their services from a legal aid client. The application process ensures there are valid reasons for the panel member to withdraw and helps to ensure that LAS clients are not prejudiced in the process.
More specifically, the rules accomplish the following: