A pilot project that provides free legal advice to Islanders has been extended.

The pro bono summary legal advice clinic — a project spearheaded by Justice John Mitchell with the P.E.I. Court of Appeal — was launched about a year ago to help people in a civil or family dispute navigate the court system.

It was evaluated over the summer, and those leading and participating in the project — including court staff and the volunteer lawyers — decided to continue the program into the fall. Sessions will pick up again 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, the executive director at the Community Legal Information Association of Prince Edward Island (CLIA).

CLIA refers clients who are interested in participating in the clinic to the court house.

David Daughton

The Community Legal Information Association of Prince Edward Island refers clients interesting in participating in the clinic to the court house, says executive director David Daughton. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

The clinic allows individuals to meet privately with a qualified lawyer in the form of a 45-minute session, by appointment only, free of charge. Sessions take place once a week at the Sir Louis Henry Davies Law Courts.

At least 60 Islanders have been helped so far, said P.E.I.'s Chief Justice David Jenkins.

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. 

'If you don't know the law, you do not have access to justice.' — Chief Justice of P.E.I. David Jenkins

Jenkins said people are choosing to represent themselves in cases more often than in the past, especially in family matters.

"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."

Though the clinic isn't a complete solution, Jenkins said it can help give people necessary confidence and knowledge to proceed or not proceed with their legal matter.

'Extremely helpful'

Daughton said that from CLIA's perspective, the clinic has helped fill 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," Daughton said.

Jenkins believes the clinic will be an annual program that will continue based on participation and results.