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Nova Scotia Summary Advice Counsel (SAC)

Year: 
2003
Description: 

Nova Scotia Legal Aid Summary Advice Counsel provide summary legal advice, primarily to self-represented litigants, on family law matters.

Status: 

Permanent Implementation in Halifax and Sydney

Jurisdiction: 

Nova Scotia 

Court: 

Family Court Division of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia

Body Responsible: 

Nova Scotia Legal Aid

Timeline: 
imeline  
October 2003 SAC implemented in Halifax
April 2004 SAC implemented in Sydney
July 2006 Evaluation Report released
Development: 

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.

Results: 

The report summarizing the findings of the assessment contained the following conclusions:
 

There is little question but that the SAC service has met with much favour by stakeholders of all stripes as well as by virtually all its client users. All the stakeholders in the court system, and outside it, who knew much about SAC considered it a valuable addition to the Family Court. Those who knew little became quite enthusiastic when informed about how the SAC service works. The SAC role has been implemented as intended as free, summary-level, legal advice accessible to all persons otherwise unrepresented. Its defining features (short sessions, FPP, no courtroom presence, focus on legal concerns) have indeed characterized its implementation. It has realized its central objective of assisting the unrepresented as witness its penetration rate and the views of clients as well as conciliators and judges and, for many, if not most, clients it has provided the only legal counsel that they would have received. While not especially impacting on the engagement of other legal representation or on the quantity of court activities (i.e., the court workload), in the eyes of the SAC lawyers and the testimony of the other court role players, it has improved the efficiency and effectiveness of court processing. Its availability has provided relief to clients and court officials who otherwise would have quite stressed in responding to the unrepresented persons and their needs and demands. The thought of discontinuing the SAC initiative, especially without any profound reconfiguration of legal aid, is something that filled virtually all interviewees with dread.

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.

Report at 105

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

Revision History:
This summary was last reviewed in Aug 27, 2013:custom:F, Aug 27, 2013:custom:Y.