Charlottetown court continues free legal advice
A project aimed at providing Islanders with free legal advice has now been extended. The project—headed by Justice John Mitchell with the P.E.I. Court of Appeal—is a pro bono summary legal advice clinic launched about a year ago.
After being evaluated over the summer, major leader and participants in the project—including volunteer lawyers and court staffs—concluded that the program should be extended into the fall.
The new legal clinic aids people in civil or family dispute navigate the court system, and sessions are bound to begin early this year.
"The feeling was that if enough volunteer lawyers could be mobilized to do one morning a week, then they could assist self-represented litigants with their cases and basically help them navigate the justice system," said David Daughton, executive director at the Community Legal Information Association of Prince Edward Island (CLIA).
CLIA refers clients who declare interest in participating in the clinic to the court house. The clinic grants individuals a 45-minute session with qualified lawyers in private. Held at the Sir Louis Henry Davies Law Courts, the sessions are scheduled once a week.
P.E.I.'s Chief Justice, David Jenkins, said that at least 60 Islanders have been beneficiaries of the project. He also remarked on the important of knowing your legal rights.
"It can be very intimidating not to know your legal rights and to have that concern about, 'How do I get the basic information?' So this gets over that hurdle," he said.
Jenkins also remarked that more people are choosing to represent themselves in cases than before, especially in family issues.
"Most are self-represented out of necessity, because of financial resources. Some actually choose to be self-represented," he said. It's important for people to know their legal rights and obligations because if you don't know the law, you do not have access to justice."
While he acknowledged that the clinic isn't a complete solution, Jenkins said that it can aid people to acquire the needed confidence and knowledge for making decisions about their legal matter.
From the CLIA's perspective, Daughton cited that the clinic has been useful in filling a need.
"I think it's commendable that the P.E.I. courts are making the effort to do this," he said. "Occasionally we do get unsolicited feedback, and the unsolicited feedback has been really good."
"People who have contacted us after we've referred them there have generally been very happy with the assistance that they received and it's been extremely helpful to them in taking their case onwards through the courts," he continued.
Jenkins said that he believes the clinic would become an annual affair that would continue based on the level of participation and results.