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Free legal advice available in Belleville

By Jordan Merkley [1]

BELLEVILLE – A Legal Aid Ontario [2] pilot program is underway in Belleville.

The program has been put in place to offer criminal-law advice to low-income Ontarians.

“The goal is to make the criminal-law process work faster for local people charged with a criminal offence,” says Legal Aid Ontario’s Tara George.

The program started on Oct. 8. Consultations with lawyers take place every Wednesday from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Quinte Consolidated Courthouse, 15 Bridge St. W., in Room 1305.

Genevieve Oger, a spokeswoman for Legal Aid Ontario, noted that most legal-aid clients in criminal law are young people, which means the program should be of particular interest to Belleville since it is a college city.

It is important for young people to make the right decisions if charged with a criminal offence [3], as there are consequences to having a criminal record, Oger said.

George said that the program will allow people to speak with a lawyer ahead of a court appearance to prepare for their cases. “They will have more time to reflect and make appropriate choices for themselves,” she said.

The amount of use that the pilot program gets will determine its success, George said. While Belleville residents are taking advantage of the program, she said she hopes more people will become aware of it.

The pilot program will run until the end of 2014. Belleville also has a family law information centre [4] in the Quinte courthouse that runs for three to four hours a week.