After tremendously hard work by Legal Aid Alberta staff and stakeholders from across the Alberta justice system, the Justice of the Peace Bail program has launched successfully.
And according to early indications it’s already beginning to have an impact.
The program launched in Calgary and Alberta South (Red Deer and all communities south) with the hiring of eight lawyers who will be dedicated to the program.
It has been a long road to the launch of the program. Alberta Justice provided funding for Legal Aid Alberta to operate a pilot program in Edmonton in late 2016 to better understand the benefits and challenges that could exist if a full program were implemented.
After discussions with stakeholders in the justice community the provincial government made funding available in April 2018 for Legal Aid Alberta to begin hiring up to 23 Duty counsel lawyers for the program.
Through long hours and much hard work and collaboration between multiple stakeholders, the Calgary Police Services area was launched in early May. This was followed by Alberta South on August 1. Bail hearings at the time of the initial launch in Calgary were handled by Roster lawyers, due to the need for specific hiring for the program.
The Hearing Office Steering Committee, made up of Legal Aid Alberta, the Crown Bail Office, Court Clerks, Defense lawyers, RCMP, and members of the Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge police forces, worked on a condensed time frame to get the program off the ground.
‘It’s been a tremendous amount of work’
A collaborative effort between the Alberta government and Legal Aid Alberta to establish temporary offices in Edmonton and Calgary will ensure the program has a home. Work is underway to find permanent locations for both offices, said Danny Lynn, Senior Counsel for Edmonton Criminal Law at Legal Aid Alberta.
“It’s been a tremendous amount of work to establish this program,” he said, adding a lot of credit goes to Assistant Senior Counsel Helen Rogers for her role in planning, implementation and training. “We have spent a lot of time developing processes to ensure the program runs smoothly. Not to mention the immense amount of work to establish nine offices in a short period of time, fitted with all the technology needed to ensure we are protecting the privacy of clients.”
Alberta North and Edmonton Police Services area will be rolled out on August 20 and September 17, respectively. Both are the two busiest areas in the province for bail hearings.
It was important for the program to start with the two least busy areas in order to assess any issues or challenges and make adjustments where required, said Lynn.
Over 500 bail hearings have been held in the first two weeks of the program and have helped clients achieve positive outcomes at the first stages of their journey through the criminal courts.
“With Duty Counsel at JP Bail hearings, the number of contested hearings has dropped dramatically,” said Lynn. “So has the number of people being remanded into custody. There are certainly positive impacts to the program already.”
A second round of interviews is currently underway to fill the remaining Duty Counsel positions. JP Bail operates all-year round and the goal is to establish three teams of lawyers to ensure the program operates at full capacity.