The Legal Services Board was established in 1979 by the Legal Services Ordinance (later the Legal Services Act) to provide legal aid to eligible persons in the Northwest Territories. Responsibility for legal aid had been transferred from the federal to the territorial government in 1971, and the program was administered by the Department of Public Services until the establishment of the Legal Services Board.
The Legal Services Board was a public agency which reported to the Minister of Justice. Its mandate was to ensure that NWT residents had access to legal services; ensure the quality of the legal services provided; and develop and coordinate programs aimed at preventing legal problems and increasing public knowledge of the law and the legal system. Its activities in support of this mandate included providing legal aid in civil and criminal matters, administering legal clinics, managing the court worker program, and providing public legal education and information.
The Legal Services Board was headed by a Board of Directors, which was responsible for setting policies, overseeing the operations of legal aid clinics, maintaining panels of private lawyers willing to accept legal aid cases, and hearing appeals in cases where legal aid was denied. Staff at the Legal Aid Office were responsible for assessing applications for legal aid, as well as referring applicants to lawyers, administering payments and arranging travel for panel lawyers.
The Board of Directors was also empowered to appoint non-government organizations as regional legal services committees. These organizations provided legal aid assistance in their regions, courtworker and paralegal services and public legal education and information programs, and received funding from the Legal Services Board. The first legal services clinic in the NWT, Maliiganik Tukisiiniakvik, was incorporated in 1974 and later became a regional committee of the Legal Services Board, serving the Baffin region. The NWT Native Courtworkers’ Association, founded in 1975, also became a regional committee in about 1980; in 1987 its name was changed to Mackenzie Court Workers’ Services. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, several other regional committees began operating, including the Arctic Rim Law Centre (formerly the Western Arctic Law Centre), located in Tuktoyaktuk; the Keewatin Courtworker Program, which was replaced by the Keewatin Legal Services Centre in about 1990; the Kitikmeot Legal Services Centre; and the Mackenzie Delta Legal Services Committee. The Legal Services Board also contracted out its public legal education function to the Arctic Public Legal Education and Information Society, which began operating in February 1986.
In the mid-1990s, the Legal Services Board began to shift away from delegating its functions to regional committees. In 1994, the Yellowknife Staff Law Office was opened, operated directly by the Legal Services Board. In 1996, the Legal Services Board arranged the amalgamation of the Arctic Rim Law Centre and the Mackenzie Delta Legal Services Committee, forming the Beaufort Delta Legal Services Clinic as a new regional committee, and in the same year it ceased funding the Arctic Public Legal Education and Information Society and took direct responsibility for public legal education. In 1999, the Legal Services Board also took over the functions of Mackenzie Court Workers’ Services.
With the formation of Nunavut, the Nunavut Legal Services Board began providing legal aid services to residents of Nunavut, and regional committees located in Nunavut were no longer associated with the Legal Services Board of the Northwest Territories, leaving only the Beaufort Delta Legal Services Clinic as a regional committee. As of April 1, 2003, the Legal Services Board took over operations of the Beaufort Delta Legal Services Clinic; from this time on, it no longer contracted out its responsibilities to regional committees. In its final decade, the Legal Services Board opened two more law clinics in Yellowknife, the Yellowknife Family Law Clinic in 2004 and the Somba K’e Law Office in 2010.
The Legal Services Board was replaced by the Legal Aid Commission when the Legal Aid Act came into force on December 28, 2014.