Paralegals will be allowed to make limited appearances in B.C. Supreme Court in Kamloops in a pilot project to improve public access to justice but opinions differ on how effective the effort will be.
Under an agreement between provincial and supreme courts and the B.C. Law Society, some paralegals will be allowed to make appearances in court on behalf of their clients to deal with procedural issues, and will also provide legal advice to clients in certain areas.
Paralegals have an education in legal work but are not lawyers themselves and often work under the direct supervision of a lawyer.
The project is among three initiatives the society hopes will help improve access to justice, said Ken Walker, a Kamloops lawyer recently elected as a bencher for the society.
“Whether it’s in supreme court or provincial court, an increasing number of people are self-representing and that has put additional strain on the system,” Walker said.
Paralegals will be able to appear in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, New Westminster and Kamloops, while they may appear in provincial court in the Cariboo/Northeast and Surrey districts. The idea is to make the system cheaper and faster, since paralegal fees are lower than those of lawyers.
Commonly referred to as legal assistants in B.C., paralegals must still be supervised by lawyers and regulated. They’ll be able to help with simple applications before the court, particularly in the area of family law, Walker said.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how it all rolls out,” he said.
Graham Kay, another Kamloops lawyer, said there are a number of significant concerns related to the pilot project.
“Are we taking away from work going to law students who are preparing to be lawyers?” he asked.
In two years, the TRU law school will have 70 students looking for articling opportunities when others from UBC and UVic are already struggling in their search for the same.
Kay said none of the other local law firms he’s spoken with is ready to allow legal assistants to attend court. The paralegals themselves may not be ready for that, he added.
“At least in the Kamloops area, I do not see it as something that we’re going to see a lot of. I would much rather see more money going into legal aid.”
Kay is a member of the B.C. Trial Lawyers’ Association, which has been conducting an ongoing campaign to pressure the provincial government to increase legal aid.