October 27 marks Duty Counsel Day in Canada. The day was created by Canada’s legal aid associations to bring awareness to duty counsel lawyers and the services they can provide to members of the public. You can read more about the day and duty counsel here: https://www.knowdutycounsel.ca/
Duty counsel are legal aid lawyers located in courthouses who give free legal advice in family, criminal, and immigration matters. Legal Aid BC reported in 2022 that BC duty counsel lawyers assisted people more than 81,000 times that year.
We wanted to use today’s post to highlight this possible referral option for your patrons.
Family Duty Counsel
Family duty counsel is available for both Provincial and Supreme Court family and child protection matters and are meant to assist people with lower incomes who are representing themselves in court. Duty counsel can provide advice about a variety of family matters, including parenting time, child or spousal support, court procedures, separation, divorce, and more.
Duty counsel services are primarily provided in-person on a drop-in basis. In some courthouses, duty counsel can also make appointments to help clients. These locations are:
- New Westminster
- Port Coquitlam
- Prince George
Legal Aid BC has a full list of duty counsel locations, their contact information, and the exact services they can provide in Provincial and Supreme family court matters on their website: https://legalaid.bc.ca/legal_aid/familyDutyCounsel
To find out more about the financial eligibility criteria for legal aid services, see their website: https://legalaid.bc.ca/legal_aid/doIQualifyAdvice
Not sure if your patron’s problem falls under Provincial or Supreme Court? Check out the FamilyLaw in BC page Do you need to go to Provincial (Family) Court or Supreme Court?
Criminal Duty Counsel:
Criminal duty counsel can help those who have been charged with a crime and either can’t get a legal aid lawyer or haven’t yet applied for one. Duty counsel can provide help in understanding the charges, court procedures, and one’s legal rights. They can also represent people at bail hearings or help with a guilty plea if there’s time. Criminal duty counsel is available in all courthouses around the province and do not have any financial eligibility criteria.
See Legal Aid BC’s website for more information about criminal duty counsel: https://legalaid.bc.ca/legal_aid/criminalAndImmigrationDutyCounsel
Indigenous people charged with a crime may be able to receive legal help via Indigenous Justice Centres and First Nations/Indigenous court. Read more about each:
- Indigenous Justice Centres in BC: https://bcfnjc.com/indigenous-justice-centres-in-british-columbia/
- First Nations/Indigenous court: https://aboriginal.legalaid.bc.ca/courts-criminal-cases/first-nations-court
Immigration Duty Counsel:
These duty counsel lawyers provide services to those in detention at Canada Border Services Agency’s enforcement centre in Vancouver. They can give advice about procedures, legal rights, and may appear on their client’s behalf at detention hearings. There are no financial eligibility requirements for these services.
See Legal Aid BC’s page on immigration duty counsel: https://legalaid.bc.ca/legal_aid/immigrationDutyCounsel
If you want to learn more about the services Legal Aid BC can provide in immigration law matters, see their page on refugee and immigration legal help.