Legal Aid, Courtworker, and Public Legal Education and Information Needs in the Northwest Territories

1. Introduction

1. Introduction

This is the final report of a study of the needs of the legal aid system in the Northwest Territories. It addresses needs concerning not only formal legal aid delivery (i.e., legal representation and duty counsel), but also the services of Courtworkers and public legal education activities. All three components of the overall system are funded under the Access to Justice Agreement between the federal Department of Justice and the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT).

1.1 Background

The federal Department of Justice has initiated a range of research initiatives to determine legal aid needs across the country. This research will form a foundation for the process of renewing legal aid agreements with the provinces and the Access to Justice Agreements with the three northern territories. At a federal/provincial/territorial working group meeting in early 2001, territorial representatives requested that research be undertaken in each of the three jurisdictions to address themes that were specific to the northern context for the delivery of legal aid. This request was followed up in a two-day meeting in July 2001, in which territorial representatives identified 10 themes that should be researched to describe the dynamics, processes and needs in their jurisdictions.

The research was subsequently tendered, and the 10 themes formed the core of the research conducted in the Northwest Territories between March and August 2002. The themes are listed below, together with the section number in this report in which they are addressed:

  • To examine the interaction between court structure, geography and culture in the territory, and how it impacts the demand for legal services, the pattern of service delivery, and quality of services (Section 2).
  • To describe the impacts of circuit courts on clients, compared with resident courts in the NWT (Section 3).
  • To explore unmet needs for representation of accused in JP courts (Section 4).
  • To describe the roles of Courtworkers in the judicial system, resulting needs for increased capacity, and how these can best be addressed (Section 5).
  • To determine unmet needs in the delivery of civil law services (Section 6).
  • To determine unmet needs prior to first appearance related to representation or assistance required by accused persons (Section 7).
  • To explore the interplay between the criminal and civil spheres in the generation of legal needs (Section 8).
  • To assess PLEI needs in the territory (Section 9).
  • To describe factors that drive the costs of legal representation in the territory (Section 10).
  • To analyze the impacts of key federal legislation, policies and resource allocation on legal aid costs, and on territorial allocation of legal aid resources (Section 11).

1.2 Methodology

It was acknowledged in the July 2001 meeting that there would be limitations on the availability of statistical data on the specific themes described above. This fact was confirmed in an analysis of information needs and availability in March and April of 2002, and has led to an emphasis on qualitative methodologies. Four data collection methods are described below.

1.2.1 Key Respondent Interviews

The central element in the methodology was 87 interviews conducted with a range of key respondents involved in the delivery of legal aid, Courtworker services and PLEI, as well as other workers in the criminal justice system and social service agencies in the communities who had had direct contact with the legal aid system themselves or through clients, and were therefore able to comment on the aspects of the legal aid system under examination. The respondent groupings are shown in Table 1:

Table 1: Interview Respondents

Separate questionnaires were developed for eight of these groupings: lawyers, judges, RCMP, justices of the peace, Courtworkers, community justice workers, Crown counsel and social agencies. For the remainder, interview guides were used, consisting of specific questions related to the respondent’s particular role or capacity to address an issue. The vast majority of interviews were by telephone, with individual respondents. Interviews ranged from 30 minutes to two and a half hours.

The questionnaires were triangulated. That is, questions were frequently common to two or more respondent groups, so that multiple perspectives could be taken into account. They were reviewed both by the executive director of the Legal Services Board and by the federal Department of Justice prior to the implementation of the interviews, and were conducted by four research team members between May and August 2002.

1.2.2 Statistical Data

During the information needs analysis stage, several sources of statistical data were explored, including the Legal Services Board database, Law Line database, Access to Justice Agreement reports, Court Services data, and federal financial contribution data. Data from these sources are found in the tables throughout this report. For the most part the data have been useful general indicators of need or demand rather than specific answers to research questions. In many instances the data had to be compiled manually (e.g., from monthly statistical sheets or from data lists) or condensed from a larger data set.

1.2.3 Document Review

A number of Legal Services Board internal documents were reviewed to facilitate understanding of procedures relevant to the research.

1.2.4 Focus Group

A focus group was held on August 12 to identify the priority, rationales and strategies which should be assigned to a number of legal aid needs that had been identified in the research to date. The focus group report is contained in Appendix 1; strategies to address needs are also reflected in Sections 2–11 of the current report.

1.3 Methodological Limitations

The two primary methodological limitations of the study are:

  • Inherent limitations of statistical data
    • As noted above, there are few instances in which quantitative data are available to answer specific research questions. Data sets were in some instances incomplete. Court Services data were only available from January 2000, both because of a new data system and because of the need to separate NWT data from Nunavut data. Legal Services Board data for 1999–2000 necessarily included Nunavut data.
  • Lack of direct client interviews
    • It was known that there were insufficient funds for direct interviews with clients, so the primary way of attempting to reflect client opinion was to interview key respondents in social agencies and Aboriginal organizations who might be advocates or intermediaries for clients. Nonetheless, the lack of direct client interviews makes it more difficult to explore Aboriginal or gender issues with greater specificity.

It should also be noted that the study was an examination of unmet needs and primary pressure points rather than a systematic evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the system per se. The primary implication of this orientation is that, although there are numerous positive observations about the legal aid system in this report, it does not consistently address respondents’ opinions of what legal aid lawyers or Courtworkers are doing well.

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