Aboriginal Legal Aid in BC

First Nations Court

If you identify as Aboriginal you may be able to have your bail or sentencing hearing in one of BC's First Nations Courts.

First Nations Court is different from other provincial courts. It focuses on community and healing. It makes sure that everyone involved in your case has a chance to be heard. The goal of your sentence will be to strengthen and heal you and your community.

For more information about applying to First Nations Court, see Who can help.


Where is First Nations Court?

BC's First Nations Courts are Gladue courts. They're located in:

When are First Nations Courts held?

Each First Nations Court is open one day each month. See the lists on the Provincial Court Problem Solving Courts page to find the exact dates for each location.

Can I transfer my case to First Nations Court?

The courts handle:

  • most bail hearings, and
  • sentencing hearings.

You may be able to have your case transferred to a First Nations Court if:

  • you identify as Aboriginal, AND
  • you're pleading guilty to a criminal offence.

If you participated in the First Nations Court in New Westminster between November 1, 2006, and June 30, 2013, an Aboriginal research team at UBC would like to hear from you. See their flyer for more information.

Find out more

How can First Nations Court help you?

First Nations Court focuses on community and healing. First Nations Court takes a restorative justice approach to sentencing.

Restorative justice

A restorative justice approach to sentencing means that:

  • The judge will work with you and your community to come up with your sentence.
  • The goal of your sentence will be to strengthen and heal both you and your community.
  • To come up with a healing plan that works for you, you and your lawyer will work with:
    • the judge,
    • Crown counsel,
    • Aboriginal community members, and
    • your family.

Before deciding on your sentence, the judge will consider:

  • your background,
  • your current needs, and
  • what resources are available to help you.

Duty counsel

It's a very good idea to get legal advice on or before the day of court. Duty counsel can give you free legal advice about:

  • the charges against you,
  • court procedures, and
  • your legal rights (including your right to get a lawyer and your right to apply for legal aid).

Duty counsel can help you if:

  • you're charged with a crime, and
  • you can't get a legal aid lawyer, or
  • you haven't yet applied for legal aid.

Duty counsel can also represent you at a bail hearing. If there's time, they can help you with a guilty plea.

Duncan, Kamloops, New Westminster, North Vancouver

First Nations Court duty counsel is available. First Nations Court duty counsel does everything listed above. They can also:

  • give you advice about how to apply to have your matter transferred to First Nations Court,
  • represent you at your bail hearing in First Nations Court, and
  • attend your sentencing hearing in First Nations Court.

For more information, call 604-601-6074 (Greater Vancouver), or 1-877-601-6066 (no charge from anywhere in BC).

The Provincial Court of BC website gives the dates when First Nations Court sits in each location. Scroll down the page to find links to the dates.

Legal information outreach workers

legal information outreach worker is available to help you at the court in New Westminster. They can give you legal information and refer you to other services.

Find out more

What happens at First Nations Court?

First Nations Court focuses on making sure everyone involved in the case has a chance to be heard, including:

  • you;
  • your lawyer;
  • duty counsel, if you don't have a lawyer (except in North Vancouver — see above);
  • your family;
  • your friends or a support person;
  • members of your community;
  • the victim; and
  • the victim's family.

Other people with a role in the court may also speak, including:

  • Elders,
  • social workers,
  • Native courtworkers,
  • counsellors,
  • probation officers, and
  • police officers.

Everyone involved in your case will be invited to talk about the case in the courtroom. Each person will be given a chance to speak. After everyone has had a chance to speak, the judge will work with everyone to come up with a healing plan.

What is a healing plan?

A healing plan:

  • focuses on helping you, your community, and the victims of your crime to heal and move on;
  • helps you to address the problems that got you into trouble with the law in the first place. For example, you may have to participate in drug or alcohol counselling.

The court in New Westminster uses the concept of the medicine wheel as a guide for the healing plan. Each plan includes emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental components.

You will be asked to:

  • take responsibility for your actions,
  • work on addressing the issues that got you into trouble with the law in the first place, and
  • return several times to the court, so the judge can see your progress with your healing plan.

The video First Nations Court explains restorative justice. It includes a re-enactment of a First Nations Court session in New Westminster.

The video Restoring Elders in Justice explains the role of Elders in First Nations Court.

Applying to First Nations Court

It’s your choice whether you apply to have your matter heard in First Nations Court. Talk to your lawyer or the First Nations Court duty counsel about what’s best for you.

North Vancouver

You can apply to have your matter heard in North Vancouver if your charges arise in:

  • North Vancouver,
  • West Vancouver,
  • the area around the Sea-to-Sky highway,
  • Whistler, and
  • Pemberton (depending on where you live).

If you don't live in the areas above but you already have another case open in North Vancouver, you may be able to have your case transferred to the First Nations Court.

To apply, you or your lawyer can ask at the courthouse about having your case transferred.

Duncan, Kamloops, New Westminster

For more information about having your case transferred to Duncan, Kamloops, or New Westminster, call 604-601-6074 (Greater Vancouver), or 1-877-601-6066 (no charge from anywhere in BC).

Who can help?

Find an advocate

BC211 — Free confidential referrals to help and information — Call 211

BC Association of Friendship Centres — Find a friendship centre in your area

Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation — See their A Guide to Aboriginal Organizations and Services in British Columbia for organizations that can help

PovNet — Information about poverty issues and links to organizations that can help

Legal information

Aboriginal community legal workers — Give legal information and limited advice services

Legal information outreach workers — Give legal information and provide referrals

Legal help

Access Pro Bono Law Clinics — Free legal help

Carole James, MLA, Community Office — Free legal clinic — Call 250-412-7794

Department of Justice Community-based Justice Programs — Alternatives to mainstream justice processes

First Nations and Métis Outreach Program (The Law Centre) — Free legal help — Victoria

First Nations Court duty counsel — Give free legal advice about having your matter transferred to First Nations Court and the charges against you — Call 604-601-6074 (Greater Vancouver) or 1-877-601-6066 (no charge outside Greater Vancouver)

Native Courtworkers and Counselling Association of BC — Culturally appropriate services to Aboriginal people involved in the criminal justice system — Call 604-985-5355 (Greater Vancouver) or 1-877-811-1190 (no charge outside Greater Vancouver)

Bella Coola Legal Advocacy Program — Free legal help — Bella Coola

UBC Indigenous Community Legal Clinic — Free legal help on various legal matters — 604-684-7334 (Greater Vancouver) or 1-888-684-7334 (call no charge)

Upper Skeena Counselling & Legal Assistance Society — Free legal help — Hazelton

Victoria Native Friendship Centre — Free legal clinic — Call 250-412-7794