Nunavut legal aid spending starts to level off
LSB lawyers involved in a majority of Nunavut’s legal matters
When Nunavummiut find themselves in trouble with the law and must appear before the Nunavut Court of Justice, chances are high that lawyers working for the Nunavut Legal Services Board will be there to represent them.
That’s according to the 2013-14 annual report of the LSB that was tabled in the legislative assembly in Iqaluit Feb. 27.
“Ninety-eight per cent of all matters going before the Nunavut Court of Justice, in the areas covered by the LSB, are legally aided,” the report said.
The Legal Services Board, set up in 2000 to address the territory’s need for a legal aid system, represents people in criminal, family and civil law matters.
Sen. Dennis Patterson, who helped found the Baffin region’s legal aid office, told Nunatsiaq News March 12 that legal aid in the North has a longstanding policy — called “presumed eligibility” — which ensures greater access to lawyers for regular Nunavummiut.
“It basically means that people who appear in court for first appearance do not have to go through a rigorous test to determine if they’re eligible for legal aid,” Patterson said over the phone from Ottawa.
“That means that for a first appearance, basically everyone in Nunavut is guaranteed representation.”
And that legal representation has helped Nunavut to avoid any scandals involving serious wrongful convictions, he added.
“I think Nunavut is exemplary in providing representation for a person in conflict with the law,” said Patterson, whose life-long career in the North resulted in a senate appointment in 2009.
The Legal Services Board continued to expand the range representation into other areas of the law in 2013-14 as well.
“This year, in response to a growing demand for help on civil matters, LSB extended its civil coverage to provide assistance to applicants who sought civil remedies for alleged excessive use of force by police,” the report reads.
The Legal Services Board’s 2013-14 budget, funded exclusively by the territory’s justice department, ended up at $10 million.
That’s compared to the $8.3 million budget for the board’s previous year, and the roughly $11.75-million budget estimated for its 2014-15 fiscal year.
In 2013-14, the board spent 61 per cent of its budget on its legal practice and 16 per cent on “administration and governance.”
The remaining 23 per cent of the budget went to core funding of its storefront clinics in the three regions of Nunavut.
Of its legal practices, 77 per cent of the budget went into criminal practice, 16 per cent to family practice and seven per cent to civil and poverty practice.
Demand in Nunavut for legal aid services has increased over the past three years, but is showing signs of levelling off, the report says.
The levelling off is likely the result of a number of factors, including court sittings adjourned to the following year, the cancellation of seven jury trials and an overall drop in crime rates.
“This static trend is encouraging, as it will likely mean that LSB is adequately funded and resourced for the next fiscal year,” the report says.
The board also completed an independent audit of its four previous fiscal years.
“This promotes LSB’s transparency and accountability, and is a clear demonstration of the development of the organization’s capacity to manage and report on the organization’s services and finances,” the report concludes.