VANCOUVER, Aug. 30, 2012 /CNW/ - The Legal Services Society (LSS) is proposing a number of reforms for British Columbia's justice system that are designed to help people find timely, fair and lasting solutions to their legal problems.
"These reforms are also intended to reduce justice system costs so that savings can be reallocated to legal aid," said Mark Benton, QC, executive director of the society.
The recommendations are contained in a report, Making Justice Work: Improving Access and Outcomes for British Columbians, that LSS submitted to Attorney General Shirley Bond in response to her request early this year for advice on justice reform.
"The goal of our proposed reforms is a justice system that focuses on helping people to resolve their legal problems. Past reforms have often focused on court process rather than problem solving. Process is needed to ensure fairness, but we are now at the point where too much time and money is spent on process and not enough on resolution. The people of BC cannot afford any more process; it is time to start looking at outcomes," Benton said.
LSS's proposals include expansion of criminal and family duty counsel, more community-based family law advice services, and greater use of problem-solving courts such as domestic violence courts.
Each of these recommendations is designed for pilot projects to ensure proper evaluation before implementation. Once implemented, they can be scaled to meet public demand for the service and available budgets.
"Our experience has taught us that a small investment in legal aid can result in savings in other areas of the justice system," Benton added. "We believe our proposals will help people resolve their legal problems faster and when that happens they are less likely to experience legal problems in the future which is an additional benefit not just to the justice system, but to society as a whole."
The report is available at:
The Legal Services Society
Founded in 1979, the Legal Services Society is BC's legal aid provider. The society is funded by, but independent of, government. For more information: www.legalaid.bc.ca
Request for advice
The Attorney General's request for advice was part of a larger justice reform initiative announced on February 8, 2012 that included the appointment of former LSS board chair Geoffrey Cowper, QC, to review the criminal justice system, and the appointment of retired Alberta prosecutor Gary McCuaig, QC, to assess the criminal charge approval process. See: http://www.newsroom.gov.bc.ca/2012/02/further-action-on-justice-reform-launched.html
Information on proposed reforms
Family law reforms
- Increase availability of existing services by providing more duty counsel and more community-based advice services. Benefits: More early resolutions, divert cases from court, prepare people for hearings. Community-based advice clinics increase access to justice for vulnerable and marginalized clients.
- Provide assistance for related problems such as housing or debt that impact family law problems. This can be done through a telephone advice program and paralegals. Benefits: Resolve related problems and address issues that might otherwise require support from and social services.
- Expand mediation referrals. Benefits: Expansion of coverage to non-emergency cases will result in more resolutions.
- An independent evaluation of LSS's family law services found that 75% of duty counsel clients resolved their legal issues, while the resolution rates for telephone advice clients and advice lawyer clients were 71% and 70% respectively. See: http://www.legalaid.bc.ca/assets/aboutUs/reports/familyServices/familyLegalServicesEvaluation.pdf.
Expanded criminal duty counsel:
- Current model: Lawyers take assignments on an ad hoc basis, provide services they are able to complete on the day they are in court, and do not retain conduct of files.
- Expanded model: Specific lawyers are assigned to the same court on a continuing basis. Counsel retains conduct of cases that can be resolved within a reasonable period of time. Service can be scaled to demand.
- Similar models are in place in Alberta, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia.
- Benefits: early resolutions, fewer appearances, effective response to the growing number of administrative offences, improved lawyer continuity.
Video and tele-bail
- The Burnaby Justice Centre provides 24/7 access to judicial justices for bail hearings via video link or telephone. LSS provides duty counsel or referrals for these hearings.
- In 2008/2009, LSS participated in a video bail pilot project sponsored by the Provincial Court and Ministry of Justice. An independent evaluation found reductions in the number of appearances, the time to resolution, and prisoner escort costs.
- The use of video and tele-bail has the potential to create justice system savings in locations where transportation costs for LSS, Crown counsel, and sheriffs are high and where economies of scale can be realized.
Non-lawyer service providers
- Legal Information Outreach Workers: Help people navigate the justice system, understand the process, and provide referrals to social services. Reduces need for lawyers, judges, and registry staff to provide support services. Currently used in Community Court.
- Aboriginal Community Legal Workers: Provide legal information and advice, explain legal process, attend court with clients. LSS employs two ACLWs on Vancouver Island.
Problem solving courts
- Drug courts, mental health courts, domestic violence courts, and First Nations courts can achieve better outcomes for offenders and victims.
- Six provinces and Yukon Territory have domestic violence courts. An evaluation of the Yukon domestic violence court found fewer collapsed trials, cases were dealt with faster, and better protection against repeat assaults. LSS issues referrals for about 3,000 domestic violence cases a year.
SOURCE: Legal Services Society
For further information:
Media contact: Gen Handley 604 601 6220