Legal Service Provision in Northern Canada
Summary of Research in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and the Yukon



The role of Justice of the Peace (JP) courts differs considerably between the three jurisdictions in terms of the types of cases being heard. The pattern of legal service delivery in JP courts also differs between the jurisdictions. These two factors combine to result in differing degrees of concern with respect to unmet need in JP courts in northern jurisdictions. The extent of unmet need in JP courts is summarized in subsection 7.3.

7.1 The role of Justice of the Peace courts

The role of JP courts differs between the three northern jurisdictions.

The Northwest Territories

The number and complexity of cases heard in JP courts is increasing. Ninety percent of the cases that would previously have been pursued summarily by the Crown in Territorial Court are now being heard in JP court. The greatest increase has been in drug- and alcohol-related cases, impaired driving cases, and assault cases (32 percent of the charges disposed of in JP courts between 2000 and mid-2002 were for offences against the person).[17] JP court decisions are reviewed by the Crown and by the LSB.

The Yukon

The number of cases heard in JP courts is decreasing outside Whitehorse. JP courts primarily hear territorial and municipal charges, justice administration charges (such as breach of condition, failure to attend, etc.), and impaired driving cases. In the future, it is anticipated that the role of JP courts outside Whitehorse will be expanded and that they will sit more frequently, between circuit court sittings.


JP courts are intended to carry a significant number of cases at a high level of complexity, easing the burden on the NCJ. However, to date, JP training has not progressed to the point where this shift has taken place. Eventually, JP courts will hear youth court and family law matters, and may even undertake preliminary hearings in addition to their current responsibilities, which include bail and show cause hearings. JP court decisions are not reviewed by either the Crown or the NLSB, for lack of resources.

The role of the RCMP as prosecutors in JP courts was raised as a concern in all three studies. Many respondents felt that it was inappropriate for RCMP officers to play the role of prosecutors in JP courts. Respondents from the RCMP also voiced discomfort with this role. However, it is also unclear how the legal systems in place would respond if the RCMP were to refuse the role of prosecutor in JP courts, as the resources do not currently exist for others to take on this responsibility.

7.2 Legal service provision in Justice of the Peace courts

The method of legal service provision in JP courts differs between the Yukon and the other two Northern jurisdictions.

In the Yukon, duty counsel (staff or private bar lawyers) assist the accused in JP courts in Whitehorse. In some situations, CWs may assist clients in JP court in relation to pleas, speaking to sentence, and occasionally trials for Motor Vehicle Act (MVA) and other territorial offences.

In the N.W.T. and Nunavut, the vast majority of clients in JP courts are represented by CWs. JP courts CWs generally assist clients with pleas and sentencing, and occasionally with trials.

7.3 Unmet need resulting from Justice of the Peace courts

Concern over unmet need arising in JP courts is related to availability of representation (in the Yukon) and quality of representation (in the N.W.T. and Nunavut). The extent of unmet need in JP courts is also related to the nature and complexity of cases being heard in JP courts. More complex cases increase the need for representation and increase the degree of training required to provide representation of acceptable quality. Therefore, as the role of JP courts expands in the future, the level of unmet need is expected to increase unless steps are taken to address JP and CW training requirements.

Table 7.1 summarizes the extent and nature of unmet need in JP courts in each of the three jurisdictions.

Table 7.1 - Unmet Need Resulting from Justice of the Peace Courts
Jurisdiction Unmet Need
Northwest Territories

17 Drawn from the source report for the Northwest Territories.