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Third Justice Access Centre coming to Victoria

Sep 07 2012
Shirley Bond promises better access for families. 

Shirley Bond promises better access for families.

Photograph by: Darren Stone, Times Colonist , Times Colonist

B.C.'s third Justice Access Centre is coming to Victoria, providing people with help for a range of legal issues and working to reduce their need to go to court.

The new centre, which will be in the former landtitles office adjoining the Victoria courthouse on Burdett Avenue, was announced Thursday by Minister of Justice and Attorney General Shirley Bond.

The provincial government is putting $1.5 million into the project and is looking to have the centre ready by the fall of 2013.

The centre has been described as having "a single front door" into the justice system for dealing with family and civil matters. Similar centres already operate in Nanaimo and Vancouver.

"What it allows us to do is locate important familysupporting services in one place," Bond said.

The centre will bring together such partners as the Legal Services Society and the Access Pro Bono Society, both of which provide legal services to lowincome clients.

"When you're trying to sort out how to deal with matters like child-custody issues or divorce, property issues or debt, it can be a pretty emotional and stressful period of time for those families," Bond said.

"We need to find better ways to support families.

We need to look for increased access and look at the issue of affordability."

Victoria's centre will also house the University of Victoria Law Centre, Bond said.

"The law centre is the clinical legal program for law students to assist people who can't afford a lawyer," she said.

Bond said that adding the UVic program to the project makes good sense.

"This opens the door for new opportunities for collaboration, and our goal is the same - we want to find better ways to serve individuals and families in the capital region.

UVic dean of law Donna Greschner said putting the university program in the new facility is a unique step that will benefit students and clients alike. The UVic centre currently sees up to 2,000 clients a year.

It's the first time, as far as she knows, Greschner said, that a law school's clinical program will operate out of a Justice Access Centre.

Greschner, who joined Bond for the announcement, said access to the justice system is sure to improve with the Victoria project.

"This new centre will go a long way toward improving access to justice for people in Victoria who otherwise would not be able to get the legal help that they need."

Bond said the Nanaimo and Vancouver access centres have enjoyed considerable success in dealing with cases that have come in, although not all can be resolved without a courtroom session.

"But a lot of those cases don't end up in courtrooms, and that's a very significant process improvement that we need to build on."

Statistics from the Vancouver Justice Access Centre show that only one-third of its clients have had to go to court, with most of those resulting from the other party initiating the matter.

Overall, about 75 per cent of clients at both existing centres have come for help with family issues, although the number of civil cases is increasing.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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