The Legal Services Society (LSS) has launched a new province-wide criminal law service to help people who wouldn’t normally qualify for legal aid.
Under relaxed eligibility rules, the new criminal early resolution service makes legal aid better for both clients and courts by allowing lawyers to help a wider range of people while improving efficiencies in the justice system.
The new service means lawyers who do legal aid can help more clients who might otherwise have to represent themselves in court on matters that don’t require a trial. The financial eligibility cut-off is $1,000 higher than for regular legal aid representation services and there is no requirement that clients be facing jail.
Currently, LSS denies service to 1,200 criminal legal aid applicants per year because their incomes are over the financial eligibility limit or they do not face jail. Client demand for criminal early resolution services is expected to exceed that number once people learn about the program.
“Benefits of the criminal early resolution service include not only increased accessibility for clients but early resolution of cases, and the elimination of unnecessary court appearances,” said LSS CEO Mark Benton.
The service will help clients resolve cases that are appropriate for resolution within 90 days and before trial dates are set. It is suitable for people who don’t qualify for regular legal aid representation services but whose cases cannot be resolved by duty counsel.
The criminal early resolution service came about due to the success of a similar program in Port Coquitlam. In 2015, LSS launched a new program with a full-time lawyer at the Port Coquitlam courthouse for clients who are within $1,000 per month of the standard financial eligibility threshold, who do not face a risk of jail and whose cases are suitable for resolution without a trial.
“The Port Coquitlam model resulted in significant benefits for the courts and the accused, including fewer court appearances and a reduction in time to resolution,” said Benton. “Expanding a similar service throughout the province just made sense.”