Nunavut Legal Services Study



All respondents accepted the present legal aid delivery model, as established under the Nunavut Legal Services Act, funded through the Access to Justice Agreement between the Government of Canada and the Government of Nunavut, as an effective and credible delivery mechanism for legal aid services. The key elements of this delivery model are a regionally based delivery system through legal services clinics overseen by local boards of directors with strong Inuit representation, staffed with criminal, family and civil lawyers, supplemented by practitioners in the private bar, all of whom are encouraged to work closely and collegially with Inuit Courtworkers and Inuit support staff. Another key aspect of the delivery model is that the NLSB, which also includes strong Inuit involvement, continues to be an independent, statutory body with the capacity to provide legal aid services to all citizens, even where those citizens may be challenging government departments or agencies. So it seems that key actors in the Legal Aid Plan believe that the delivery model is satisfactory, but that significant improvements are required to ensure that it works as it should.

The following proposed solutions focus on the provision of legal services in Nunavut:

Funders and administrators should ensure the following:

  1. Existing family law and criminal law positions should be built into the core funding formula for the NLSB and an ongoing mechanism established to review the adequacy of staff lawyer positions based on caseloads, legal aid applications and the available private legal aid panel. These mechanisms should ensure that there are enough lawyers in place:
    • So that lawyers can travel to communities to prepare in advance on busier court circuits.
    • So that the NLSB can prevent discontinuity by allocating two lawyers for busier circuits on a rotating basis - one to deal with new cases and the second to deal with previously adjourned matters, including trials.
    • So that private and clinic lawyers are available, on call, in rotation, to clients who need to speak to a lawyer while in custody, upon arrest or while in custody on remand. The list of available counsel must be provided to the community RCMP detachments and the Baffin Correctional Centre and updated regularly.
  2. Adequate funds should be allocated to provide rough parity of benefits for NLSB lawyers with Crown counsel, including provision of staff housing.
  3. Adequate funds should be allocated to provide adequate office space for regional legal services clinics.
  4. A funding base should be established to permit broader coverage of legal aid services in the family law and non-family civil law areas, including developing a mechanism to allow chargebacks, to clients who can afford to contribute to legal services, to be credited to the Legal Aid Plan. The funding base must also allow the NLSB to develop a capacity in vital non-family civil law, initially through the hiring of one civil lawyer.
  5. Funds should be provided to continue an intensive and ongoing training program for Courtworkers, including the establishment of a full-time Courtworker training and support person, who would also arrange for mentoring of Courtworkers through staff and private lawyers. This Courtworker training should also closely collaborate with the existing comprehensive training program for justices of the peace in Nunavut. It should also include a system of recognition and certification that could be tied to pay scales as an incentive. The training program would also be an opportunity to develop a code of ethics designed for Courtworkers.
  6. Funds should be provided to ensure that Courtworkers and office support staff in the Legal Aid Plan have salaries and benefits comparable to other community public servants in Nunavut, as well as support for the necessary office space and related equipment and supplies.
  7. Funds should be provided to maintain the independent database and communications system now being implemented by the NLSB.
  8. There must be adequate funds for public legal education and information, including adequate human resources. Many respondents recommended that a position of co-ordinator for PLEI should be established in Nunavut. This office would be encouraged to co-operate actively with other government agencies and departments such as the Workers' Compensation Board, the Maintenance Enforcement Office, the Public Trustees' Office, to work together to improve awareness of rights and responsibilities under the law. Clinic lawyers and Courtworkers can be very effective in delivering public legal education to individuals and groups at the community level. Community radio broadcasts and regular bilingual newspaper articles are also effective.


The following proposed solutions deal with broader aspects of the Nunavut justice system, which nonetheless impact on the NLSB:

  1. The NCJ should consider whether there are ways by which circuit courts and flights could be scheduled so as to utilize more Mondays and Fridays for court sittings, rather than for travel days, especially on busier circuits. At present, there are concerns that, even where Crown and defence counsel travel ahead of the court to consult with clients on a weekend prior to a weekly court sitting, available time for court hearings is compressed to three days or less. This is due to the present travel policy of the Nunavut Court of Justice, which usually sees the court beginning its weekly circuit court travel on Monday and using Friday for return travel.
  2. The NCJ should continue to review, in consultation with the Crown, and the NLSB, whether circuit courts could be scheduled differently so as to maximize court time available in communities.
  3. Funds should be provided to encourage appropriate government offices, the NLSB, Aboriginal organizations and private firms to establish articling positions ultimately aimed at increasing the number of resident members of the Nunavut Law Society. The NLSB should actively recruit Akitsiraq Law School graduates to article with staff lawyers and work in legal aid upon graduation.
  4. A program should be established to develop and train local process servers, who would be available to assist in dealing with process in civil and family law matters.
  5. The Crown office in Nunavut should be encouraged to develop the capacity to assist RCMP or lay prosecutors to review charges before they are laid at the community level.
  6. The RCMP should be provided with resources to identify and train lay prosecutors to replace RCMP court officers in communities. This will eliminate the inherent conflict for police officers, whose offices must both investigate and prosecute cases at the community level.
  7. Resources should be provided to permit the Crown Attorney's office to decentralize prosecutor positions to regions so as to develop more continuity, co-operation and advance work in dealing with caseloads at the regional level along with regional staff lawyers of the Legal Aid Plan. The Crown should also be encouraged to establish and decentralize some Victim Witness Assistant positions to larger communities.
  8. Alternative justice measures such as the RCMP's successful Group Family Conferencing initiative, the Family Law mediation project, and community justice initiatives should be encouraged and fostered, since they incorporate traditional values and serve to reduce pressures on an already overburdened circuit court as well as JP courts in larger communities.
  9. In developing and implementing all aspects of alternative justice measures, great care must be taken to ensure that the human rights of women and victims are safeguarded and respected against societal pressures, which are sometimes oppressive.
  10. The Nunavut Law Society should consider how best to deal with ethical issues raised by potential conflicts existing within a small pool of lawyers, especially in the legal aid context, where family law and criminal law cases sometimes co-exist in the same regional clinic office.
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