Legal Aid, Courtworker, and Public Legal Education and Information Needs in the Yukon Territory: Final Report
PLEI is provided in two ways in the territory. The first is through Yukon Public Legal Education Association (YPLEA), for which PLEI is the central focus. The second is through a range of criminal justice and social professionals, for whom PLEI is usually a secondary or even minor focus.
YPLEA is a non-profit organization that provides legal information to the public, in order to promote understanding of and access to the legal system.
Its main and best-known service is the Law Line, a 1-800 service that responds to callers from throughout the Yukon, providing free legal information on a range of issues. Table 18 shows that 38 percent of Law Line issues over the past three years have related to family matters, approximately 44 percent to other civil matters (consumer, contract, personal injury, landlord-tenant, wills and estates), and the remainder to criminal law and procedure issues.
|Area of Law Requested||1999-2000||2000-2001||2001-2002||All Three Years|
|Wills & Estates||160||142||110||412||6%|
|Landlord and Tenant||66||113||89||268||4%|
- Source: YPLEA Annual Reports. For 2001-2002; data were compiled from monthly statistics.
- Percentages do not total 100% due to rounding.
Table 19 shows that 87 percent to approximately 96 percent of the calls in the past three years have been from Whitehorse, although virtually all communities have used the service. Approximately 10-15 percent of overall requests are estimated to be from Aboriginal callers. The fact that the Whitehorse proportion of calls appears to be increasing is understandable given YPLEA's location, but given that the Law Line is a 1-800 service, more publicity and/or community outreach could increase knowledge of the line and its accessibility to outlying communities. In many of the outlying communities, the caller was from a First Nations office, acting as an intermediary for an individual in the community.
In addition to the 2500-2800 annual telephone or mail contacts, there are approximately 200-250 in-person requests at the YPLEA office. This number is likely far below potential demand, because of the office's location, far from downtown, on the Yukon College campus.
|Method of Request||1999-2000||2000-2001||2001-2002|
|Method of Request||1999-2000||2000-2001||2001-2002|
|Out of Yukon||61||48||23|
|Other, not specified||-||-||32|
- Source: YPLEA Annual Reports. For 2002-2002; data were compiled from monthly statistics. The figures are reported as found, but it should be noted that the total of "method of request" is not identical to the total of "locations" in any of the three years.
- Percentages of contacts by phone were 93 percent in 1999-2000, 89 percent in 2000-2001, and 86 percent in 2001-2002.
- Percentage of calls from Whitehorse, of total locations for 1999-2000, was 87 percent, for 2000-2001 was 88 percent, and for 2001-2002 between 89 percent and 96 percent (depending on whether "Yukon" and "not specified" calls are considered to be Whitehorse).
Other activities of YPLEA over the past several years include:
- Training with local support groups on child support laws.
- Resource centre/library of legal materials for public use.
- Distribution of materials:
- There are law-related materials, from a variety of sources, that can be distributed both to callers and, proactively, to front line service providers.
- Administrative law training:
- YPLEA has developed and has provided training on fundamental principles of administrative law to various government boards and individuals.
- Participation in an annual Maintenance Enforcement information session.
Most respondents described activities that can be considered as "public legal education." While seldom a major focus for any given person, collective examples of activity are shown in Table 20. In general, the major focus of PLEI for legal professionals (defence lawyers, Crowns and judges) is on substantive law and procedural issues; for RCMP officers, it is prevention; and, for other players (courtworkers, community justice co-ordinators and social agencies), it tends to be somewhat more diverse and holistic, crossing both justice and social issues. Most groups perceive their PLEI roles not just in terms of the general public, but also in terms of individual one-on-one contacts and education of or participation in intermediary service provider groups.
As shown in Table 20, some of the respondents expressed their PLEI activity in terms of formal linkages with YPLEA, schools, JP training, court committees or community justice committees.
Referrals are another form of linkage. The predominant referral patterns were to legal aid, the Law Line, or the Lawyer Referral Service. However, in virtually all respondent groups, there were individuals who had not referred clients to YPLEA or the Law Line.
PLEI needs, identified by respondents, can be grouped into two categories: substantive and procedural information needs, and access and delivery needs.
The key substantive law information needs were perceived to be for:
- A range of family law issues, e.g., how to do your own divorce/ how to deal with property issues, domestic violence legislation.
- The implications of plea (e.g., in impaired or firearms cases). As noted in Section 7.2, this information is not consistently offered prior to first appearance for persons who have not been detained, and yet is of major importance to them.
- Employment standards.
- Landlord-tenant information.
- Individual versus community rights.
With regard to procedural information, the needs identified by respondents were for information about how to contact and apply for legal aid, and step-by-step information on how court processes work for any given matter.
Several respondents noted that, in civil and family matters, what clients want is more than simply information. They want to weigh the implications of certain choices, discuss strategies and plan next steps - because they do not meet legal aid financial criteria or their matter is not covered by legal aid. Because many cannot afford a lawyer, and are unrepresented litigants, their real need is for summary advice. Depending on their skills, courtworkers will try to respond to this middle zone of needs. The same type of pressure is often felt by PLEI providers, and is one of the reasons to consider a closer collaboration with YLSS.
Many respondents spoke strongly of the desirability of moving YPLEA from its present location at the Yukon College campus to a downtown location, either within the court building or in a storefront operation in close proximity to the courts, YLSS, courtworkers and several social service agencies. Various respondents expressed opinions that such a move would:
- generate better use of YPLEA's legal resource material;
- provide the YPLEA staff person quicker access to legal resources within the courthouse and YLSS; and
- create increased capacity for on-the-ground co-ordination and cross-referrals between YLSS, courtworkers and YPLEA.
Such a move has financial implications in terms of office rental costs (the space at Yukon College is free) and the likelihood that service demands (and therefore staff requirements) would increase.
In a similar vein, several respondents felt accessibility for both YPLEA and other PLEI deliverers could be improved by:
- outreach to outlying communities and/or to intermediary organizations (e.g., social agencies, First Nation offices, local mayoral and council offices);
- an emphasis on plain language for any written materials;
- participation in training of intermediaries; and
- the use of non-written methods (video, radio, TV) of conveying legal information.
Responding to the need of clients for summary advice (as discussed in the previous section) would require a change of mandate for YPLEA, the hiring of a supervising lawyer and/or the development of a supervisory relationship with YLSS. There will likely be further dialogue this fall within YPLEA and/or between YPLEA and YLSS to explore some of these access and delivery options.
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