For many people, getting up close and personal with the legal system is something they avoid at all costs.
But Vernon lawyers are hoping the community will head to the Vernon Courthouse Saturday for a fun and casual introduction to the justice system at the 2011 Vernon Law Day open house.
“It’s for members of the public to have access to justice and to raise the community’s awareness of the different community organizations and facilities that are there to help them and that don’t cost anything,” said Deborah Pearce, a lawyer with Allan Francis Pringle and the president of the Vernon Bar Association, which is hosting this year’s event.
Pearce said for many people, the idea of simply walking into the RCMP detachment is intimidating, so this is a way of introducing the public to services in the community in a fun, non-threatening way.
“We’ve had so much support from everyone with this, including the Community Policing Office and the sheriffs’ department — we couldn’t do it without the sheriffs, as they keep the building secure and will participate in the mock trial. And they’ll have the holding cells open as well.”
Sheriff services include escorting prisoners by ground and air to and from remand facilities for court appearances. Sheriffs also provide security in courtrooms and courthouses and manage the jury selection process.
Also on Saturday, the B.C. Branch of the Canadian Bar Association will hold its province-wide Dial-A-Lawyer event as part of Law Week. In 2010, 25 volunteer lawyers assisted 216 people in five different areas of law including: family, tort/MVA, immigration, criminal, and wills and estates.
Vernon residents are welcome to call 1-800-663-1919 between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to speak with a lawyer for up to 15 minutes at no cost.
The 2011 Vernon Law Day open house is a free event that takes place Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a mock trial held from noon to 2 p.m. and organized by Vernon Secondary School law students. There will also be a composition competition for elementary and high school students, a question and answer session with lawyers, and displays by the RCMP, specialized victims, legal aid and sheriffs.
Also on board will be Vernon lawyer Dirk Sigalet leading tours of the courthouse and providing some history; an aboriginal worker, Vernon Women’s Transition House, and Kelowna lawyer Tom Fellhauer, with the Law Society of B.C.
The mock trial will be presided over by Judge Mark Takahashi of the Provincial Court of B.C. Crown counsel Sandra Sinclair will act as prosecutor and defense lawyer Juan O’Quinn will represent the defendants.
“This is wonderful that we have so many people who are willing to give their time for this event, especially on a Saturday,” said Pearce.
“So we’re encouraging everyone to just come and enjoy the day — we’ll have the barbecue going and we’re looking forward to meeting everyone.”