New legal clinic to help people in court who don't have a lawyer

Starting next week, the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island will launch a pilot project to provide free legal advice.

Free advice from qualified lawyers on family law, civil matters

In a majority of family-law cases in P.E.I. courts, at least one participant has no lawyer. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Starting next week, the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island will launch a pilot project to provide free legal advice.

It's a response to a trend seen in courtrooms around the Island and across the county, where many people try to represent themselves in court without the help of a lawyer.

According to P.E.I. Supreme Court Justice David Jenkins, it's part of "crisis" in access to justice across the country. 

"In a majority of family law matters we see in our courts, there's at least one participant who is self-represented," he said.

The pilot project will allow people to meet privately with a qualified lawyer. The 45-minute sessions, by appointment only, are free of charge. The clinics are for family law and civil matters only.

Number of family law cases growing

The number of family law cases going before the courts has been growing across Canada for decades, according to Jenkins.

On P.E.I., family law cases now account for a full 40 per cent of the court time in Supreme Court.

"Family law can be anything from child support to custody and access to children, division of marital property, all of those types of things that are really important to the lives of the people who are looking to have it resolved," said Terri MacPherson, acting prothonotary with the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island.

Terri MacPherson, acting prothonotary with the P.E.I. Supreme Court, will run the clinics.

Helping 'people know their rights'

The volunteers lawyers who will be providing the free advice are all qualified members of Law Society of Prince Edward Island. The Community Legal Information Association (CLIA), based in Charlottetown, will help people arrange appointments for the weekly sessions.

"It's another option for private citizens to become better informed and better educated about how to access justice," said David Daughton, executive director of CLIA. "Access to justice is a situation of national priority."

'Access to justice is a situation of national priority,' said David Daughton, executive direction with the Community Legal Information Association. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

"The objective is to help people know their rights," said Jenkins. "The lawyer will tell them the strengths and weaknesses of their case."

The clinics start Feb. 7 at the Sir Louis Henry Davies Law courts, 42 Water Street, in Charlottetown.