Court Site Study of Adult Unrepresented Accused in the Provincial Criminal Courts (Part 2: Site Reports)

Chapter 1: The National Court Site Study of Unrepresented Accused

1.1 Background and objectives

The costs of providing legal aid in criminal matters to eligible persons in Canada are shared by the federal Department of Justice and the governments of the provinces and territories. In general terms, the agreements that govern this cost-sharing seek to establish and support a national "system" (loosely-defined) of criminal legal aid that is both accessible and reasonably consistent across jurisdictions. In recent years, however, the accessibility of legal aid to adults facing criminal charges has come into question. These concerns have escalated as many jurisdictions restricted eligibility for criminal legal aid to only those accused facing the most serious charges and whose financial circumstances are the most dire.

One indicator of this restricted access has been the increasing number of reports of "unrepresented accused" appearing before the adult criminal courts. This has prompted the Department of Justice, in consultation with the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Permanent Working Group on Legal Aid, to develop a strategic research plan to examine the level of unmet legal need in Canada, as part of a broader program of research on access to legal aid.

Accordingly, the Department of Justice, after a competitive tendering process, entered into a contract with Robert Hann & Associates Limited, with ARC Applied Research Consultants, for the conduct of a national study of legal representation in adult criminal court cases. In general terms, the objectives of the study have been:

  • To gain a clear sense of the quantity and nature of adult criminal cases that move through the justice system without legal representation.
  • To examine the possible effects of a lack of representation both on accused persons and the justice system, more generally.

1.2 Overview of methodology

Nine court sites

The data collection took place in nine provincial court sites across Canada. The sites – selected to be representative of the existing range of court structures – were St. John's, Halifax, Bathurst, Sherbrooke, Scarborough (Toronto), Brandon, Regina, Edmonton, and Kelowna.

Common core activities tailored to each site

The specific approach and activities for each court site were tailored to the local situation in each site. Nonetheless, a core set of activities has been undertaken in each site.

  1. Site study initiation

    The proposed approach was sent to each site. The next step was an extensive set of telephone interviews with court and legal aid officials in each site to tailor the approach, protocols and schedule to that site. Special attention was paid to the capabilities of different local manual and automated information systems to provide the types of data required by the project. A local Project Advisory Committee (PAC) was also set up.

  2. Site visit

    Intensive in-person interviews were conducted with individuals from all key groups involved in the court process (e.g., judges, Crowns, legal aid officials, duty counsel, court administration staff, officials responsible for transportation of remanded prisoners, and defence bar).

  3. Empirical data collection

    Depending on the site, empirical information was collected using a variety of techniques and sources, including:

    • the extraction of data from individual case records in manual record systems;
    • the extraction of data on disposed cases electronically from court automated information systems; and
    • direct observation of court proceedings.

  4. Analysis and documentation of results

    Draft self-contained individual site reports were prepared.

  5. Review of report with provincial and site officials

    Earlier drafts of the individual site reports were distributed for review by e-mail to a group of government and non-governmental persons in each site (including local Project Advisory Committee members).

  6. Preparation of the final report

    Comments received were then incorporated into the revised versions of the site reports that comprise the remainder of this document.

  7. Workshops at sites

    The lead consultants have also offered to facilitate a meeting to review the results with local officials in those sites requesting such a review.

Project staff

The research team has included four senior consultants.

One of these consultants led the work in each of the nine court sites. Bob Hann led the work in St. John's, Halifax and Toronto. Colin Meredith led the work in Kelowna and Edmonton. Mira Svoboda, under Colin's direction, led the work in Sherbrooke and Bathurst. Joan Nuffield led the work in Brandon and Regina.

Bob Hann is the principal in charge of the project.

Local staff and consultant support

Throughout the project, every reasonable effort was made to minimize the impact on court administration staff in the study sites. In support of this goal, extensive discussions were held with local court officials to plan and co-ordinate the work. A portion of the budget for the study was also set aside to hire local persons with extensive experience in the courts – to provide research assistance for coding data from manual court records and for recording data from direct observation of court appearances. Resources were also provided to local computer programmers with extensive experience in working with the various automated court information systems. We were extremely fortunate to have assembled this highly qualified group of people to assist the project.

Overall schedule

The project was begun in February 2002. The nine site visits and primary and secondary data collection were completed by June. Analysis was completed and draft reports were forwarded for review to the sites in August. The review was completed and the current report was prepared by the end of September. The local workshops to review the findings will take place after the individual site reports and the overall report are published.

Format of the final report(s)

The final report is presented in two parts:

  • Part 1: An Overview and Comparison of Key Findings (bound separately).
  • Part 2: The detailed Site Reports (the current document).
    • A compilation of the nine individual stand-alone reports provided for the sites.
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