Duty counsel are lawyers paid by the Legal Services Society (LSS) to help people with lower incomes with their criminal, family, and immigration law problems. You may qualify for help from duty counsel even if you don't qualify for a legal aid lawyer. Duty counsel services include the following.
Advice counsel telephone serviceEdit
If you know someone in custody at a police lock-up who is awaiting a bail hearing, he or she can get legal advice over the phone during the evenings and on weekends and holidays. The Advice counsel telephone service is available by calling 1-888-595-5677 (call no charge).
Brydges Line telephone serviceEdit
If you are arrested, detained, or under active investigation by the police or another law enforcement agency for a criminal offence, and you are not yet charged, you can call 1-866-458-5500 to speak to a lawyer. Brydges Line telephone service is a province-wide toll-free telephone service available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Criminal duty counsel (Provincial Court)Edit
If you can't get a legal aid lawyer and you're charged with a crime, you may be able to get help from duty counsel in Provincial Court. Duty counsel are lawyers who provide legal services to accused people both in and out of custody. Duty counsel can provide you with advice about:
- the charges against you,
- court procedures, and
- your legal rights (including the right to counsel and the right to apply for legal aid).
Duty counsel can also represent you at bail hearings and, if there is time, help you with a guilty plea. While you don't have to be financially eligible to get criminal duty counsel services, you must meet LSS coverage and financial eligibility requirements to receive ongoing representation. Show up early at court so you will have a chance to discuss your case with duty counsel before court. Bring any paperwork relating to your case.
Duty counsel is available at courthouses throughout the province. For duty counsel hours in your area, contact your local Courts of BC registry, which are located in the Blue Pages of your phone book under "Government of British Columbia - Court Services."
First Nations Court duty counselEdit
If you self-identify as Aboriginal you may be able to have your bail or sentencing hearing at the First Nations Court in North Vancouver, Duncan, New Westminster or Kamloops. The First Nations Court has duty counsel who can help you apply to the court to have your case transferred there, and can give you legal advice on or before the day of court. He or she can also help you prepare your Gladue report. For more information, call the First Nations Court duty counsel at 1-877-601-6066.
Family advice lawyersEdit
If you're a parent with a low income experiencing separation or divorce, you may be eligible for up to three hours of free legal advice from a family advice lawyer (family duty counsel who provide advice). Family advice lawyers provide advice about parenting time or contact/access, guardianship/custody, child support, property division (limited advice), tentative settlement agreements, and court procedures.
These lawyers are available at:
- Justice Access Centres in Nanaimo, Vancouver, and Victoria.
- Family Justice Centres in Kamloops, Kelowna, New Westminster, Prince George, and Surrey.
Family duty counsel (Provincial Court)Edit
Provincial Court duty counsel help lower income people with family law matters, including child protection issues (if the Ministry of Children and Family Development becomes involved with your family). Duty counsel can give you advice and speak on your behalf in court on simple matters. However, they won't take on your whole case and won't represent you at trial. They can also attend family case conferences at some courts.
Duty counsel laywers are available by appointment or on a drop-in basis in Kelowna, Nanaimo, New Westminster, Port Coquitlam, Prince George, Surrey, Vancouver, and Victoria (although appointments are encouraged). At other locations, duty counsel services are on a drop-in basis. Priority is given to people who have matters in court that day. Bring any paperwork relating to your case. See Provincial Court Family Duty Counsel for locations or find your local court registry in the Blue Pages of your phone book under "Government of British Columbia - Court Services."
Family duty counsel (Supreme Court)Edit
If you are a person with a low income experiencing separation or divorce, you may be eligible for up to three hours of free legal advice from Supreme Court family duty counsel. Duty counsel are lawyers who can provide advice about parenting time or contact/access, guardianship/custody, child support, property (limited advice), tentative settlement agreements, and court procedures.
Duty counsel can also assist you in chambers (a courtroom where applications, but not trials, are heard) if the matter is simple, unopposed, or by consent. They can also attend judicial case conferences at some courts.
You should try to speak with Supreme Court duty counsel before going to court. Bring any paperwork relating to your case.
Duty counsel are available by appointment or on a drop-in basis in Kelowna, Nanaimo, New Westminster, Prince George, Vancouver, and Victoria. At other locations, duty counsel services are available on a drop-in basis. See Supreme Court Family Duty Counsel for locations or find your local court registry in the Blue Pages of your phone book under "Government of British Columbia - Court Services."
Immigration duty counselEdit
LSS provides duty counsel for people in detention at the Canada Border Services Agency's enforcement centre in Vancouver. Duty counsel provide detainees with advice regarding procedures and their legal rights, and may appear on their behalf at detention hearings. Clients don't have to meet LSS financial eligibility requirements to receive these services. For more information, call the Legal Aid immigration line: 604-601-6076 or 1-888-601-6076.