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Easy-to-read Need to Know pages offer tips and highlights.
Answers to common questions about courts and legal services arising from the coronavirus pandemic.
“My child support case is supposed to be heard in Provincial Court very soon. But with so many things being disrupted by the pandemic, I don’t know if my hearing is still going to happen. Will it be postponed?"
– Rae, Coquitlam
Can I get in legal trouble if I don’t practice “social distancing?”
The guidance from authorities to stay close to home and to keep two metres apart from others is strong advice, not the law. Some of the social distancing rules do have the force of law, however.
The province’s public health orders are examples. The most recent ones include orders restricting social gatherings, requiring masks in many settings, and spelling out rules for restaurants and pubs. The latter order details how establishments must keep two metres between groups of patrons and get contact information for one member of every group (among other measures).
The province is starting to crack down on rule violations. Police and provincial bylaw officers can issue $2,000 tickets to event organizers and restaurants and pubs that break the rules. Authorities can also give ~$200 tickets to people not following mask wearing requirements or the rules at gatherings or in businesses during the pandemic.
Another rule that has severe penalties if you don’t follow it: If you’ve just returned to Canada from abroad, you must isolate or quarantine, depending on if you have symptoms. (The federal government website explains the difference.) You can be fined or jailed for failing to follow this order.
Is the courthouse open? If I have a case coming up, will it be postponed?
After being closed early in the pandemic, courts in British Columbia resumed operations in mid-2020, with extensive new protocols in place. For Provincial Court matters, please consult their notice. Notices have also been issued by the Supreme Court and Appeals Court.
What if I’m running out of time to file a claim?
Early in the pandemic, the province issued an order suspending all limitation periods and time periods for starting a claim or bringing an appeal in a civil or family court matter. (There's an exception for builders' liens claims.) The suspension will continue until March 25, 2021. This will result in the suspension having been in place for exactly one year. To be clear: on March 25, 2021, the suspension of limitation periods will end. If you're contemplating a court action or appeal in a civil or family matter, file your paperwork now.
For matters before tribunals (as distinct from courts), each tribunal can decide whether to suspend time periods. Check with the tribunal that is in play for your situation.
Are law offices open for business?
The provincial government designated legal services and the work of lawyers, notaries, and paralegals to be essential services. Their offices can remain open, but they must follow the orders and guidance of the provincial health authorities. Like other workplaces, they must post a COVID-19 safety plan.
What about legal aid?
Legal Aid BC continues to provide legal aid services, but by phone only. If you live in a community where there is a local agent, call the agent's office to apply for legal aid. Legal Aid BC’s online services remain open, such as the LiveHelp chat service on their Family Law website.
Can I still access low-cost or free legal services?
Yes, but they are adapting their services at this time. Access Pro Bono ramped up their telephone advice service. CLAS continues to provide assistance to eligible clients, but the logistics have changed.
Some providers have launched new services to respond to the crisis. For example, Mediate BC is offering a "low-bono" online mediation program that helps people resolve conflicts that stem from the pandemic.
Is the land registry open for business?
This brochure is for people in British Columbia who are interested in unbundled legal services — a new service model for lower-cost, professional legal assistance.Read more
There are options for free and low-cost legal help.
Depending on how complex your legal issues are, it can be helpful to have a legal professional assist you. There are options for free and low-cost legal help.
Options for free legal advice
There may be times when you want legal advice. Options for free legal advice include:
Lawyer Referral Service
A service that helps British Columbians of any income find a suitable lawyer to serve their legal needs. Operated by Access Pro Bono, the service provides the contact details of a lawyer who will meet with you for a free half-hour legal consultation. The lawyer can provide some initial advice on your options. Then, if you and the lawyer agree, you can hire that lawyer at their regular rates.
Call 604-687-3221 (Lower Mainland)
Call 1-800-663-1919 (toll-free)
Access Pro Bono Clinics
At in-person clinics throughout BC, volunteer lawyers provide free legal advice to people with limited means.
Call 604-878-7400 (Lower Mainland)
Call 1-877-762-6664 (toll-free)
Legal Aid BC
The agency that operates legal aid in British Columbia provides a range of advice and representation services to help people for certain types of legal problems who meet financial guidelines.
Call 604-408-2172 (Lower Mainland)
Call 1-866-577-2525 (toll-free)
A more affordable way to hire a lawyer: unbundled legal services
According to national surveys of lawyer fees, hourly rates for lawyers range from $200 to $400, depending on the experience of the lawyer, the size of the law firm, and the type of matter. To hire a lawyer in a lawsuit costs $10,000 to $50,000 and beyond, depending on whether the case goes to trial and how complex and contentious it is.
An emerging option that can reduce the expense is to look for a lawyer that offers unbundled legal services. This can allow you to get a lawyer's assistance depending on what you can afford and what you need the most help with. See our page on unbundled legal services to learn whether this option could be a good fit for your situation.
Notaries help with many non-contentious legal services
Depending on your situation, you may be able to get help from other legal professionals. A notary public is a legal professional authorized to provide many non-contentious legal services to the public. For example, a notary can prepare a will or power of attorney and notarize signatures on documents. The BC Notaries website offers a list of notaries in the province.
Advocates provide help for low-income and marginalized people
Legal advocates provide free support, advocacy and information to low-income and marginalized people experiencing legal problems. Advocates usually work out of community agencies, such as community service centres, churches or women's centres. PovNet offers a Find an Advocate map, and Clicklaw's HelpMap lists dozens of legal advocates in BC.
Student legal clinics provide assistance in some communities
At student legal clinics in the Lower Mainland and Victoria, law students can help those who would otherwise be unable to afford legal assistance. The students help with legal problems such as tenancy or work problems, accessing government benefits, (less serious) criminal charges, and small claims cases. The University of British Columbia's Law Students' Legal Advice Program clinics serve the Lower Mainland and the University of Victoria's Law Centre serves the Victoria area.
Finding legal help in your community
The Clicklaw HelpMap includes options for free or low-cost legal help in communities across the province.
For more options for legal help, see the Dial-A-Law page on free and low-cost legal help.
Hire a lawyer to help you with parts of your legal matter. Get the support you need at a manageable cost.