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

12. Conclusions

12. Conclusions

12.0 Conclusions The primary conclusions that emerge from this study can be described in terms of three sets of needs: corporate, Aboriginal and gender. They are described below:

12.1 Corporate Needs

Corporate needs are those that speak to the viability of the basic legal aid delivery structure. YLSS was in crisis prior to the Operational Review in 2000, but has since achieved stability through a variety of measures fortifying its staff model of delivery. As noted in Section 2, this accomplishment has been at the cost in part of the ongoing deterioration in the private bar's participation in legal aid delivery. Of even more significance, it could not have occurred without the YTG significantly increasing its share of the federal /territorial contribution to the operation of YLSS, which now stands at 69 percent, compared to 50 percent four years ago. Given that YTG's increase was required to address the most basic of corporate needs, i.e., the ability to retain staff, a rebalancing of federal/territorial contributions would seem an essential starting point in future Access to Justice Agreement negotiations. A second basic corporate need would be a mechanism to achieve ongoing parity with prosecution services funded by the federal Department of Justice. As pointed out in Sections 2, 10 and 11, increases in Crown counsel resources have direct impacts on the quality of service expected of legal aid.

12.2 Aboriginal Needs

As noted in Section 1, this study did not involve client surveys that could have characterized clients' individual and collective experiences with the delivery system, and the contexts of clients' lives that generate needs for legal assistance. Nonetheless, three strongly emphasized themes have significance for First Nations individuals in particular.

The first is the recognition of the need for increased emphasis on Native courtworker training. This acknowledges courtworkers' role as a cultural bridge between the court system, First Nation clients and their communities, as well as pressures to undertake more court-based roles such as speaking to sentence and plea.

The second theme is the anticipated expansion of JP court functions in outlying communities throughout the territory. Insofar as First Nations individuals comprise a majority of the population in over half these communities, the ability of YLSS and/or courtworkers to serve regular JP courts in between Territorial Court circuits is directly related to serving Aboriginal needs.

The third theme, raised at various points in this study, is about client needs for increased time and support. Part of this theme concerns the hurried pace of legal aid and courtworker interactions with clients on circuits. Although the pace of court work in southern jurisdictions is also often highly pressured, the specific context in the Yukon is one of isolated communities, lack of alternative resources for clients, and a lack of readily accessible PLEI. Another part of this theme concerns requests to courtworkers by First Nation clients for help with civil and family matters, to which they have generally not been able to respond, either because of lack of experience or lack of time. A third has been the fact that YPLEA, although reaching some clients in outlying areas through the Law Line, has not been able to do any systematic outreach outside of Whitehorse.

12.3 Gender Needs

Statistics on the gender of YLSS or YPLEA clients were not available for this study. Nonetheless, it is generally accepted that a large majority of clients in criminal matters are male (reflected in courtworker statistics in Table 10) and a majority of clients in family matters tend to be female. Even though YLSS service has significantly increased in family matters in the past year, that capacity is dependent on the YTG's continued high contribution level to YLSS, and/or an increase in the federal proportion of contributions.

Concerns having a bearing on gender were expressed in several ways. Many respondents, including focus group participants, felt that funding for family matters should be extended to all final orders, as opposed to interim orders, or final orders in selected cases only. It was noted in Section 6 that the proportion of legal aid refusals, both for coverage and financial reasons, is much higher for family matters than for criminal. One senior courtworker described a frequent demand for assistance in family matters, which she has been unable to meet. Alternative means of settling family matters without trial, and this need, were rated highly in the focus group. Such approaches should not be seen simply as financially expedient but also, if implemented with sophistication and attentiveness to power imbalances, as ways of addressing needs more holistically and compassionately. Another frequently expressed need, in relation to YPLEA, was for summary advice, rather than just information, to assist unrepresented litigants to pursue their cases more effectively.

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