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

1.  Introduction

1.  Introduction

This is the final report of a study of the needs of the legal aid system in the Yukon Territory. It addresses needs concerning not only formal legal aid delivery (i.e., legal representation and duty counsel through the Yukon Legal Services Society (YLSS)), but also the services of courtworkers and the public legal education activities of the Yukon Public Legal Education Association (YPLEA). All three components of the overall system are funded under the Access to Justice Agreement between the federal Department of Justice and the Yukon Territory Government (YTG) .

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 in 2003. At a meeting of the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Working Group on Legal Aid 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. Although the YTG representatives were not able to attend the meeting, they subsequently reviewed and approved the research themes identified in a plan dated July 9, 2001.

The research was subsequently tendered, and the 10 themes formed the core of the research conducted in the Yukon Territory 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 those of resident courts (Section 3).
  • To describe the roles of courtworkers in the justice system, resulting needs for increased capacity, and how these can best be addressed (Section 4).
  • To explore unmet needs for representation of accused in JP courts (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 sphere in the generation of legal needs (Section 8).
  • To assess public legal education and information (PLEI) needs in the territory (Section 9).
  • To describe factors that drive the cost 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

Central to the research were 53 interviews conducted with a range of key respondents -- people involved in the delivery of legal aid, courtworker services and PLEI, others in the criminal justice system, and people in the community who had had direct contact with the legal aid system themselves or through clients. . The respondent groupings are shown in Table 1:

Table 1
Interview Respondents
Respondent Type # of Interviews
YLSS staff lawyers 6
Private bar lawyers 7
YLSS board member (2 of the 7 private bar lawyers were also board members) 1
Judges 4
Justices of the Peace 1
RCMP 6
Courtworkers and/or community justice co-ordinators (some respondents held both roles) 11
Social agency and Aboriginal organizations 9
Crown Counsel 4
Yukon Public Legal Education Association (2 of the 7 private bar members also were or had been on the YPLEA board) 1
Department of Justice officials (YTG) 3
Total 53

Separate questionnaires were developed for seven of these groupings: lawyers, judges, RCMP, 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. 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 the perspectives of different groupings could be taken into account. They were reviewed both by the executive director of YLSS and by the Department of Justice prior to the implementation of the interviews, and were conducted by five 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 YLSS database, Access to Justice Agreement reports, Court Services data, federal financial contribution data, courtworker reports and YPLEA annual reports. 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. The Yukon Bureau of Statistics was also a useful source of data for information provided in Sections 2.1 and 10.2.

1.2.3 Document Review

A number of YLSS 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 7 to reflect on the priorities that should be assigned, and the rationales and strategies that should be applied 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; some of the strategies to address needs are also reflected in Sections 2 to 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 - especially for courtworker services - were in some instances incomplete.
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 an evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the system per se. The primary implication of this orientation is that, although positive elements are described, the report does not systematically address respondents' opinion of what YLSS, YPLEA or courtworkers are doing well, nor whether respondents feel positively about the work of legal aid deliverers even if they identify limitations.

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