Nova Scotia Summary Advice Counsel (SAC)
Nova Scotia Legal Aid Summary Advice Counsel provide summary legal advice, primarily to self-represented litigants, on family law matters.
Permanent Implementation in Halifax and Sydney
Family Court Division of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia Legal Aid
|October 2003||SAC implemented in Halifax|
|April 2004||SAC implemented in Sydney|
|July 2006||Evaluation Report released|
In October 2003 a pilot project was initiated in metropolitan Halifax (Devonshire Court location) whereby summary legal advice was to be provided under the direction of Nova Scotia Legal Aid in the Family Division of the Supreme Court...In April 2004 the service was established at the Family Division in Sydney (Sydney Justice Centre location) whereby the counsel was under secondment to Court Services from Nova Scotia Legal Aid. In this initiative special funding was secured for two years from the Department of Justice Canada in response to a proposal jointly submitted by NSLA and Court Service Nova Scotia...
While the two projects differ in terms of funding arrangements and organization context for the SAC role, in each case, counsel provides legal advice with respect to the Maintenance and Custody Act, the 'Divorce Act', the Matrimonial Property Act, pension legislation and so forth.
The report summarizing the findings of the assessment contained the following conclusions:
There were some differences in the SAC service by site but overall the commonalities were much more pronounced. There is little question that SAC has effected a court system that is more effective, efficient and equitable (the so-called 3Es in social policy). At the same time it is important to appreciate that the SAC is a limited resource. There is still a very significant problem concerning the unrepresented litigant in Family Court. There is still more that can and should be done in achieving the 3Es, especially reaching out to community agencies and to diverse minority groups whether aboriginal or immigrants.) but, as noted above, a case can readily be made that SAC has certainly facilitated the more active client's pursuit of the available opportunities for justice and problem-solving in Family Court... Overall, then, while clearly the evidence underlines the crucial contributions of SAC for both clients and the court system, it is important to be realistic - as many judges have indicated, the problem of adequate legal counsel may have gone from a ten to an eight, and as community agencies and others have noted, the contribution to a more holistic, problem-solving court has been quite modest.
Concerns and Recommendations
The following concerns were raised and recommendations made in the report:
- Promotion and awareness: public awareness of SAC and the appreciation of the SAC role among the court role players could be improved
- First past the post: a concern was raised that one party in a dispute can manipulate the situation to effectively shut the other party out from any free legal advice, as SAC lawyers cannot give legal advice to both parties
- More SAC: many of the clients expressed a need for an extension of the SAC service
- Targeting of narrower, needier client base: as there are no restrictions on accessing the services, the assessment showed that SAC is much used by people who could turn to other sources for legal advice