A pilot project announced Friday is expanding legal aid services to help resolve criminal cases more quickly.
Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton made the announcement Friday for the Expanded Criminal Duty Counsel (ECDC) program. Provided by the Legal Services Society (LSS), this program will serve legal aid clients who are dealing with a criminal case at Port Coquitlam’s courthouse.
Before this pilot project, legal aid clients got legal advice from a different lawyer every time they went to court. This new project, however, will focus on continuing with the same lawyer throughout to help achieve early resolution of cases wherever possible.
The pilot lawyer will give one-on-one service to make sure that clients understand the court process and their available options. The lawyer will give advice and information about charges, evidence, disclosure, and liaises with Crown Counsel, and will also attend court if a guilty plea is deemed appropriate to resolve the case.
The Ministry of Justice is funding the ECDC as the last of five legal aid justice transformation pilot projects to help improve access and outcomes in the criminal and family justice system. The Province says that these projects are meant to help low-income B.C. residents to get increased access to legal information and advice to resolve legal problems as efficiently as possible.
“Early resolution of uncomplicated cases reduces both the stress on the court system and our clients,” says Carmen Ochitwa, Port Coquitlam criminal duty counsel. “It allows those matters that require a full hearing or trial to be more efficiently scheduled into the court time available.”
To receive the services from ECDC, applicants need to have an income and assets within a qualifying range as well as a “case that can be resolved before a trial date is set based on factors such as the complexity of the case and the volume of disclosure.”