Today marks one year since the British Columbia government declared a state of emergency as part of its provincewide response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite numerous challenges, including court closures and a transition to remote services, Legal Aid BC (LABC) continued to deliver legal aid services and introduced many new initiatives to support access to justice for British Columbians over the past year.
Starting in the spring of 2020, LABC responded to the pandemic by switching to phone-only applications for legal aid, providing new legal education and information resources, and enhancing legal advice and representation services. To meet the needs of legal aid clients, we adapted to new circumstances by introducing a broad range of services. Some of these new pandemic-inspired initiatives included:
- Introduction of a triage model for out-of-custody criminal and family duty counsel to ensure safety in the court and to help clients navigate a different process during the pandemic.
- A new electronic applications process allowing criminal lawyers to apply for legal aid on behalf of clients who, due to barriers or other challenges, are unable to contact LABC. The electronic application process for advocates, piloted before the pandemic for family law applications, expanded to more intermediaries including Indigenous agencies and criminal lawyers.
- A broadened scope of family law services, on a trial basis, to connect more clients with lawyers in lieu of in-person family duty counsel services. We also temporarily increased financial eligibility income guidelines so more people could get a lawyer’s help, whether or not their case involved court.
- Creation of a new “First appearance in Provincial Court” web page on the Family Law in BC website, which includes interactive videos, worksheets and a script that self-represented litigants can read from when appearing virtually in front of a judge.
- New pandemic-specific web sections on the Family Law in BC website, including information about the legal system under COVID-19, a questions-and-answers page, and new content, including videos, about protection orders.
- Adaptation and publication of our “Coping with Separation” booklet as “Coping with Separation during COVID-19.”
- A new, free Remote Child Support Mediation service to help people with child support issues.
As a result of the pandemic, LABC plans to maintain or expand some of these new services and initiatives including:
- Online services and technology to improve accessibility to legal aid services and the application process for people across BC.
- “Community Connect” online meetings to enable community workers and partners, legal advocates, and legal aid offices to meet virtually and discuss issues including accessibility to services.
To stay informed about new developments at LABC, visit our latest news page.