Nunavut Legal Services Study
The unmet need that exists in all of the areas discussed in Section 5.0 has a serious effect on the accused, but also on the victim, the community at large, the staff of the NLSB, and on the legal system in Nunavut as a whole.
"In my time, I can think of three suicides as a result of people waiting. One case was a young girl in …… who was waiting for the court to deal with a very simple assault charge. She was 19. The assault was over a boyfriend. There had been a previous charge, she had pled guilty and got probation. Then she was charged again. The Court was weathered out. When the Court finally came, she committed suicide."
The NLSB's inability to meet the needs of the accused in many different situations has a significant impact on that individual's well being. All of these effects combine to increase the accused's sense of helplessness in the face of the legal system. This feeling of helplessness is further exacerbated by the paucity of local support mechanisms for the accused in most communities, the pressures of living in a very small community while accused of a crime, and the emotional traumas that have already been suffered by most individuals.
Most respondents, and particularly NLSB staff, were able to provide examples of cases where they felt this extreme helplessness and despair contributed to the accused's committing suicide.
"Another case was in …… It was a very minor offence involving a young offender who had committed mischief in the school. He had a very tough home life. He waited for Court. When the Court came, the Crown asked for jail. He was given suspended sentence and probation. A week later, he committed suicide. It seemed to me it was a result of the Court … waiting for the result, then being disappointed in the result."
In circuit courts, the discontinuity in defence counsel that sometimes results from the circuit court structure affects the quality of service received by the client, because the new counsel may lack knowledge of the case history or of the client's particular needs. Discontinuity in defence counsel may also result in further delays in the processing of the case, as the new counsel may ask for an adjournment if they feel they do not have adequate information to defend the client appropriately. Eventually these delays and the effects of discontinuity in counsel result in frustration on the part of the client and a loss of respect for the justice system as a whole.
"At the end of February, the Nunavut Court of Justice came to Igloolik for only seven hours. The defence lawyer had so little time … All I could do was make appointments. Afterwards, a client claimed he had pleaded guilty to something he didn't do. I felt frustrated and upset."
Some respondents believed that unmet need in circuit courts and JP courts results in a greater likelihood that the accused will plead guilty to the offence, and in unduly onerous and sometimes inappropriate sentences. For example, the accused may have to give undertakings that they are unable to fulfill (particularly in matters of housing and not returning to the former family home) or be sentenced to house arrest, which may have a negative effect on the rest of the people living there.
Lack of representation prior to first appearance also has a number of negative effects on the client, particularly when taken in combination with the lack of remand capacity in smaller communities:
- If there is no Courtworker available and the duty counsel refuses to conduct the hearing over the phone, the accused is often remanded to Iqaluit (removed from the community) and the bail or show cause hearing takes place there, when duty counsel is available. Generally, the RCMP appears to be reluctant to hold the accused in the community for even a 24-hour period, due to the limited availability of appropriate facilities.
- If the bail or show cause hearing does not take place, for whatever reason, and the client remains in jail, or is sent in custody to Iqaluit for a show cause hearing, respondents reported that he or she may eventually give a statement to the RCMP without having representation. They felt that clients are also more likely to admit guilt if they are not represented, as it is a shock and a source of stress to many accused persons to be abruptly removed from their home community. Respondents reported that their clients are often afraid not to give a statement to the RCMP, even if they know they have the right to representation.
- Corrections officials also corroborated views expressed by defence lawyers that it can be very demoralizing for the average accused person, invariably spending significant time in remand at the Baffin Correctional Centre (or even at the Yellowknife Correction Centre, due to overcrowding at the Baffin facility), far away from home and family. As a result, demoralized and despondent accused persons end up pleading guilty as the only way to end the remand.
Finally, unmet needs in the areas of family and civil law can also have a negative effect on individuals. Some respondents believed that frustration due to unmet need in these areas can lead the people involved to behave in a criminal manner (e.g., assault their partner) and, therefore, be accused and potentially convicted of a criminal act. There was also a strong concern that, without support and advice available at the community level, people living in violent situations will remain there, rather than seeking divorce.
"I don't know if legal remedies will help, except over time. How do you change the mindset of these [abusive] people? Sooner or later, they're going to die off. But, in a way, this tradition is passed down. The thing that shocks me the most is when a woman is in an abusive situation her own family will not support her. I think it would be really good if these women [were to] have access to a worker in the community [to] refer to …"
Clearly, unmet need also has a negative impact on the victim (in criminal cases) or on the other party to the dispute (in family law or civil law cases). For example:
- The delays that sometimes occur in hearing cases in circuit court leave the victim without closure and, in smaller communities, to face the accused on an ongoing basis for several months until the court returns.
- Delays also increase the potential for re-victimization, particularly in cases of assault.
- In family law and civil law cases, the other party to the dispute may become the victim of a criminal act because the underlying issues were not dealt with efficiently.
- The limited availability of family lawyers may result in a situation where one party to the dispute obtains representation but the other party cannot, as the one family lawyer in the community cannot represent both. There is also the potential for one party to be denied family law legal services because another criminal lawyer at the same clinic is representing the other party in a separate case.
- The way in which family law issues are addressed (through documents in judge's chambers rather than in court) reduces the satisfaction of the parties involved, because they do not get to address the issues personally, and, therefore, it reduces the likelihood that they will comply with the judge's ruling.
The effect of unmet need on the victim is often compounded by the absence of Victim Services workers in many communities.
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