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

8. Interplay Between Criminal and Civil Issues

The original intent here was to explore whether criminal and civil matters are interconnected, and if more adequate coverage or earlier response to either type of issue might forestall the need for coverage or response to the other. This issue could not be examined in a useful way through file reviews – to explore the impacts of non-coverage in one or other area – because, by definition, if there was no coverage there was no file to be reviewed. Nonetheless, the following patterns were described anecdotally:

  • One lawyer estimated that 20 percent of clients are involved in both the family/civil and criminal streams of legal aid. Several other lawyers said that the connection is "predictable," or a "routine" occurrence.
  • Two predominant cross-over patterns were identified:
    • Spousal assaults leading to a demand for custody and/or access assistance. In this pattern, legal aid was usually available for both sets of matters.
    • Family matters (custody, access) being settled very slowly and degenerating into criminal offences such as mischief, impaired driving, or abduction. These secondary offences were seen as acts of frustration, despair or even misguided attempts to bring attention to the family matter. Another form of degeneration from family problems into criminal matters was on an intergenerational basis, i.e., traumatized children turning to drugs and alcohol to ease their pain.
  • In both of these sets of patterns the most useful approaches were seen to be:
    • Speedier access to legal aid and courts to resolve custody and access issues.
    • A more holistic approach that involves access to treatment and/or intensive counselling around family violence and/or family relations.
    • Referral to treatment and/or counselling for alcohol abuse, which was seen by several respondents as a common connecting link between family issues and criminal acts.
    • A recognition that, to a greater degree than in criminal matters, legal representation in family matters can play a preventative role in establishing some sort of stability in the family relationships.
  • Other connections that were described were between spousal assaults, family dysfunction, alcohol and child welfare matters, and between unresolved workplace issues and either family matters or minor criminal offences. The first issue spoke again to the need for more holistic approaches involving referral to treatment and/or counselling. The second could be addressed by increased legal aid coverage for certain workplace issues.
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