Legal Aid, Courtworker, and Public Legal Education and Information Needs in the Yukon Territory: Final Report

Appendix 1: Summary of Legal Aid Focus Group Whitehorse, Yukon [7] August 7, 2002

1.  Purpose

The purpose of the focus group was to reflect on the priority, rationale, and strategies that should be assigned to 29 legal aid needs in the Yukon. These needs had been identified through 44 respondent interviews and were listed in a document distributed to participants. This list was in turn drawn from a summary of a July 16 document entitled "Study of Legal Aid: A Point Summary of Findings to Date on Ten Research Issues." Both the needs list and the summary document were sent, together with an agenda, to participants a week in advance of the meeting.

2.  Participants

Twelve participants were invited to the meeting, all of whom attended. They were selected with several principles in mind:

  • representation of different sectors of the criminal justice system
  • representation either of activity governing the Yukon as a whole, and/or of activity in a variety of communities
  • Aboriginal representation
  • gender balance
  • direct "front-line" experience
  • substantial exposure to legal aid clients and/or legal aid issues
  • ability to reflect on either/both criminal and civil (including family) issues
  • ability to discuss matters in "systems" terms rather than solely as representatives of a particular constituency.

The participants were:

  • Executive Director of Yukon Legal Services Society
  • Director of Court Services (YTG Justice)
  • Manager, Financial Services (YTG Justice)
  • Executive Director of Yukon Public Legal Education Association
  • Staff lawyer, YLSS, serving six communities
  • Chairman, YLSS (and private lawyer)
  • Courtworker serving five communities
  • Director of Justice Programs, Kwanlin Dun First Nation
  • Chief Judge, Territorial Court
  • Special Project Co-ordinator, Victim Services, Family Violence Prevention Unit
  • Director, Kaushee's Place (Women's Transition Centre)
  • Crown Counsel (and former staff lawyer with YLSS)

3.  Meeting Format

The meeting was divided into two parts, each one and three quarter hours in length.

Part One:

Following introductions and explanations, participants were asked to complete the rating document shown in Appendix 1. They then each explained the underlying principles or rationale that guided their assignment of priorities. Participants were free to change their ratings at any point in this discussion.

Part Two:

During the break the average ratings for each of the needs on the list were calculated and written on flip charts. Participants were asked to suggest strategies and resources that would need to be mobilized to address the issues that had been rated the highest.

4.  Results of the Focus Group

Averages of priorities assigned to each need are presented in descending order in Table 1. It should be emphasized that, because of the small group size, the notion of an "average rating" is very tenuous. Average ratings could have changed significantly with the addition of even a few more respondents; a single low rating could significantly lower the average of higher ratings by the majority of respondents. The ratings, although of interest in themselves, were intended as a reflective and discussion-generating process rather than as a planning process.

Table 21: Average Priority Assigned to Legal Aid Needs by Focus Group Participants

In general, the order of the averaged ratings shows that the current priorities in the Yukon, as perceived by the focus group participants, are:

  • Focussing on the training and roles of courtworkers (items 1 and 10).
  • Increasing support for family law matters, especially for final orders and alternatives to court (items 2, 3, and 8).
  • Increasing support, information and time spent with clients (including those who are not necessarily represented) in a variety of ways, including PLEI (items 4 and 6); and finding ways to deal with the needs of unrepresented litigants (item 7), or FAE/FAS clients (item 5).

The sense of priorities reflected by the focus group should also be considered in relation to the relative frequency with which issues were emphasized by the survey respondents, as identified throughout the body of this report.

4.1 Rationale for Priorities

Participants were asked to describe the main principles, philosophies or rationales that guided them in rating items. This was done for two reasons: (1) to foster discussion that might encourage participants to revise their rating (somewhat like a mini-Delphi exercise) and (2) to suggest principles that should be considered if the federal government directs and targets new expenditures in the area of legal aid.

The following rationales were described by participants:

  • To avoid trials.
    • Trials were seen as the single most costly element of the legal aid and court systems.
    • Any processes or procedures that could be changed in any way to reduce the likelihood of trials would allow for funds to be directed toward front-end activity (fuller assistance to clients, diversion, prevention, counselling or treatment).
  • To encourage wider access to legal support in civil/family matters.
    • Communities are impacted significantly and families lack support to solve problems, manage separation, custody and access issues, wardship matters or law-related problems of poverty.
  • To enhance capacity to serve specific needs of Aboriginal communities effectively.
    • This rationale was closely related to the conviction that courtworkers are the main vehicle for providing value-added service specifically for Aboriginal clients, and for complementing anticipated increases in the use of JP courts to serve smaller (and usually predominantly Aboriginal) communities. However, there was a general consensus that significantly improved training of courtworkers is necessary.
  • To maintain vital private bar participation in the legal aid system.
    • This rationale wove its way through discussions of the major role the staff system plays in the Yukon. Among the important concerns were the likelihood that the staff system may become even more predominant; the need to have experienced senior counsel mentoring junior counsel, and the degree to which that is achieved in the current staff system; the "bureaucratization" of the private bar (i.e., in contract or staff work for all government departments); and the level of increase in the criminal and/or civil tariffs that might be needed to encourage more private participation.
  • To effect system savings and financial stability.
    • This rationale underlays discussions of financing of courtworker programs, Crown disclosure procedures and charging practices, and unrepresented litigants.
  • To devote adequate time/attention to clients, to develop their understanding and confidence in the system.
    • This rationale underlays discussions of the functions of courtworkers, the role of PLEI, the need for more civil/family assistance, and the role of summary advice.
  • To address the needs of persons who do not receive legal aid, but who cannot afford representation.
    • This rationale related to discussions about unrepresented litigants, needs for PLEI and for summary advice, the role of courtworkers, the financial eligibility cut-off points, and the predominance of unmet needs in the family/civil area.

4.2 Strategies for Addressing Priority Issues

The main strategies for the three sets of priority issues identified earlier in Section 4.0 are presented in Table 22: Strategies for High Priority Needs.

Table 22
Strategies for High Priority Needs
Need Strategies/Resources Advantages and Disadvantages (if discussed) or related comments
Courtworker training. Piggy-back courtworker training on to JP training and fund travel/accommodation costs for courtworkers. Advantage: training program already developed, quality resources will not be duplicated.

Disadvantage: requirements will not necessarily be identical for JPs and courtworkers.
Crown counsel and/or legal aid lawyer provide periodic training (e.g., every 3 months) to individual courtworkers in their own communities one or two days before regular circuit dates. Advantage: can cater to specific needs and level of skill of courtworkers
  • regular reinforcement of knowledge
  • based in community.
Disadvantage: requires funding (e.g., accommodation) for lawyer/Crown and time.
Training through courtworker national association. Advantage: caters to courtworker-specific issues.

Disadvantages: not yet established
  • may not completely address Yukon context.
Certification of courtworkers to perform various levels of tasks requiring specific competencies. Advantages: helps to consolidate and reinforce a career path
  • should include both educational and experiential (supervised) training.
Disadvantages: will limit courtworkers from undertaking certain activities that clients request.
Increased support for civil/family law matters Fund custody, access, support issues to final order stage. YLSS currently is able to do this on a merit basis and will continue to be able to do so if current YTG funding level continues.
Storefront service combining some YPLEA functions with supervising lawyers. Advantages: provides summary advice component that YPLEA not able to offer
  • support to unrepresented litigants makes their use of court time more efficient
  • can take selected family and civil law cases not currently covered by legal aid
  • accessibility, visibility
Disadvantages: would cost approximately $200,000.
Co-ordinated family court. Advantages: more efficient use of legal resources.

Disadvantages: beyond control of legal aid to effect this decision.
Earlier legal aid intervention in child welfare cases. Advantages: possibility of arriving at agreement to put family supports in place and avoid court.
Increased time and support to clients Storefront service as per previous point. Same as for previous point.
Increased courtworker role in pre-post diversion.
Lawyers and/or courtworkers attend circuit communities between circuits and/or a day before. Advantages: fuller opportunity to explain procedures and discuss options with client
  • fewer adjournments, greater efficiency in use of court time.
Disadvantages: extra cost especially between circuits
  • scheduling problems for day-before approach if more than one community is on the circuit.

[7] Note: this appendix is a slightly adapted version of the report of the focus group sent to the Department of Justice in mid-August, 2002.

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