Government of ALberta News Release:
Helping Albertans navigate the justice system
The government is introducing duty counsel services at first appearance bail hearings to reduce court backlogs and help Albertans understand their rights.
Duty counsel is a free service that is available to all Albertans regardless of income levels. Under the new system, Legal Aid lawyers will provide basic information, guidance and advice to help accused persons at their first bail appearance. Currently, many people facing charges are self-represented during the bail process.
Having duty counsel at all first appearance bail hearings will create efficiencies in the legal process. In addition to providing advice, duty counsel may also attend the hearing and speak on behalf of the accused. By reducing the number of court appearances for an accused, it will free up time and resources in Alberta’s courts and remand centres.
“Our government is committed to an effective and efficient bail system. The comprehensive review of Alberta’s bail system in 2016 highlighted how important it is to put the most important information in front of decision makers so the best possible decisions can be made. Making Legal Aid duty counsel available at first appearance bail hearings is a key part of that. This initiative will help balance public safety with the need to protect the rights of individuals.”
Providing duty counsel at bail hearing offices was one of the recommendations of the 2016 Alberta bail review final report, and introducing this program is a continuation of that work to reform Alberta’s bail system.
“Legal Aid Alberta services provide legal representation for Albertans while also enhancing the efficiency of Alberta’s justice system. Providing duty counsel at first appearance bail hearings will help all Albertans, regardless of their circumstances, understand and protect their rights under the law.”
Legal Aid Alberta will be recruiting the new duty counsel lawyers over the coming months and these positions will be phased in, with a full staffing complement expected by this fall. They will be available during bail hearing office hours of operation – 16 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
This initiative follows a successful three-month pilot project that saw Legal Aid Alberta provide duty counsel at first appearance bail hearings in late 2016.
“We are fully supportive of the decision to bring back duty counsel at bail hearings and believe that this will create efficiencies in the justice system that will benefit all Albertans.”
Quick facts about Legal Aid
- The 2018-19 budget commits $89.3 million for Legal Aid, an increase of $7.9 million over the previous year’s published budget funding.
- Since taking office in 2015, the government has increased funding to Legal Aid by almost 40 per cent.
- In late 2015, the Government of Alberta increased access to Legal Aid by raising the minimum income level to access services.
- The Government of Alberta is currently negotiating a renewed, long-term sustainable funding and governance agreement with Legal Aid Alberta and the Law Society of Alberta.
- The new governance agreement will address the pressures on the program that threaten its long-term sustainability, such as the rising cost of providing legal aid services and the need to extend them to more people.