In the 2018-2019 fiscal year, Legal Aid Alberta (LAA) made significant strides to enhance our essential programs and services that support Albertans during some of the most difficult times in their lives. Last month we launched our Annual Report, which reflects all the work we have accomplished in the last year and the progress we are making in support of our new Strategic Plan.
Our organization was very busy last year. A variety of organizational milestones are included in this comprehensive report that we are eager to share with Albertans.
We were able to increase access to our vital services by providing full-day in-person criminal assessment services at the Edmonton and Calgary courthouses. Additionally, a new Support Organizations database was launched on the LAA website for clients to access other important support services in Alberta. We increased the efficiency of many of our programs in order to ensure there are no barriers to quick, effective and appropriate legal representation for eligible Albertans. This included training Legal Service Officers to issue certificates, helping to decrease the time between approval for services and the appointment of a lawyer, and the launching of a pilot project to study choice of counsel for clients.
Our organization is essential to a more efficient justice system and we work tirelessly to ensure the best possible use is being made of expensive and scarce court time. We were able to provide additional supports to the court system when we launched Mental Health Court in Edmonton and the Justice of the Peace Bail Program across the province. LAA was also granted intervener status at Supreme Court of Canada to argue there should be a lower presumptive ceiling for youth proceedings.
We also achieved many organizational milestones; including hiring the first appeals lawyer in LAA’s history to focus on legal issues that impact our clients and our justice system. In an effort to improve our public reputation and visibility, we launched this LAA news site and blog, as well as a new three year Strategic Plan for LAA with new Vision, Mission and Values for the organization. In October 2018, we worked with the Government of Alberta and the Law Society of Alberta to announce a new five-year Governance Agreement and sustainable funding model.
Sharing our in-house expertise with the legal community is central to our goal of being a Centre of Excellence in all that we do. In 2018-2019, we had many opportunities to educate staff and roster lawyers to ensure they are providing high-quality representation to our clients. We hosted several training sessions, including a session on Intergenerational Historic Trauma and its Impact on Aboriginal Clients in the Justice System and the Representation of Children in High Conflict Parenting Matters. We re-booted our articling student program with the hiring of three law school graduates and co-hosted the inaugural Junior Counsel Criminal Law Conference with over 50 lawyers attending two days of panel discussions.
We also strengthened our relationship with many key stakeholders. We hosted tours of the Edmonton Law Courts with Federal, Provincial and Municipal political leaders and key stakeholders to inform the public debate and political leaders about our role in the justice system. In December 2018, the first meeting of our Roster Representation Committee occurred. We participated in Law Day at Siksika Nation and celebrated the 20th anniversary of our services being available in this community.
Finally, we celebrated the successes of our impressive staff lawyers. LAA lawyer Grace Auger received a Leadership in the Profession award during the Women in Law Leadership (WILL) Awards. Youth criminal lawyer Karen McGowan’s charter challenge against the extended segregation of an Alberta youth was successful when the judge ruled it unlawful confinement and in contravention of national and international law. The Law Society appointed our Youth Criminal lawyer Sarah Lanceley to their new Indigenous Advisory Committee.
Our organization is essential to a more efficient justice system and it is our priority to ensure our services are accessible and delivered fairly to Albertans. For more information about what we’ve been up to, check out this interactive website that was developed to showcase the 2018-2019 fiscal year and our successes.