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Lawyer Appointing (Certificate) Program

LAA appoints lawyers (both private bar and staff lawyers) to represent financially eligible individuals in a wide variety of cases. In addition, LAA administers court ordered counsel on behalf of the Alberta Minister of Justice and Attorney General in accordance with the Governance Agreement.

On June 13, 2011, appointment of files and the issuing of certificates changed to a new lawyer appointing system that helps LAA provide more efficient and fairer counsel appointments. In the 2011-12 fiscal year there were 1,153 active private bar members on the LAA roster list, about 750 of whom took on a certificate in the last year.

Legal Services Centres

The Legal Services Centres (LSCs) were designed to improve LAA client access to legal services, tailored to client needs and covering a broader range of legal issues in accordance with priorities in the 2009 LAA Review: to reduce the cost of specific legal services while maintaining or increasing the number of clients served, and to provide better client outcomes.

The LSCs assisted 19,587 new clients, created 49,358 new matters, and handled 102,853 phone calls this past year. In almost 18 per cent of new matters, the LSCs are considering the use of some form of alternative to full representation certificates, such as brief services, the Criminal Resolution Unit, Family Settlement Services or limited scope certificates.

This year the LSC management has taken steps to ensure that clients receive the same high quality of client service throughout the province, whether the client sees an LSO in person or interacts via telephone. Initiatives undertaken focused on best practices in interviewing, quality and responsiveness of legal information and referrals, and routing to early resolution options.

The LSC median time to complete an assessment for criminal and child welfare matters is the same day; that is, an LSO submits a client’s matter for counsel appointment the same day of the client’s assessment. The average time to complete an assessment of a family matter is generally two days or less.

Criminal Resolution Unit Pilot Project

The extended duty counsel pilot project, which began in April 2010 in Edmonton and Calgary, is now the Criminal Resolution Unit (CRU). The CRU expanded into Lethbridge this year, with expansions into Wetaskiwin and Red Deer planned for the summer of 2012. LSOs refer eligible clients to CRU. The goal of CRU is to provide early resolution to lower level criminal offences, reducing the burden on clients and the justice system alike.

CRU lawyers closed 2,501 files this year. CRU lawyers achieved full resolution to 70 per cent of files. The CRU team referred the remaining 30 per cent to the roster because they found the cases to be inappropriate for early resolution. Early reviews indicate that the project saves an estimated $0.6 million dollars per year.  Moreover, CRU staff lawyers are increasingly becoming preferred counsel for some of our clients. LAA hired a consultant to review the project and expects an evaluation report in fall 2012.

Duty Counsel Program 

The duty counsel program ensures the availability of summary legal advice and assistance to unrepresented persons for preliminary appearances before the courts and selected tribunals, at no cost to the person. In 2011-12, LAA expanded duty counsel services to Wetaskiwin for family matters in court.

The program continues to grow and includes the regular assignment of Duty Counsel to:

  • Criminal (adult and youth) courts
  • Drug Treatment Court (Edmonton and Calgary)
  • Disciplinary hearings at correctional facilities
  • Applications for confirmations and breaches of emergency protection orders
  • Provincial court — family and child welfare dockets (Edmonton, Calgary and Wetaskiwin)
  • Court of Queen’s Bench — family (Edmonton and Wetaskiwin)
  • Mental Health Review Panel hearings

Brydges Duty Counsel Service LAA administers the Brydges duty counsel service in accordance with the Governance Agreement. This free, 24-hour-a-day, province-wide, telephone service is available to individuals under arrest and in custody, or under active investigation by law enforcement authorities, who need immediate advice on their charter rights and criminal law. Translation services in 110 languages are also available through the Brydges line.

Family Settlement Services (FSS) Pilot Project

The Family Settlement Services (FSS) pilot project offers financially eligible clients with up to five hours of family law dispute resolution services. LAA offers the services in three locations: Edmonton, Calgary, and Lethbridge. The project covers all family law issues except for child protection matters. Participants are screened prior to entering the program to ensure he/she has capacity to participate effectively. Intake into the project is through our LSCs.

The project is unique because:

  • Roster and staff lawyers, who have experience practicing family law as well as training and/or experience in dispute resolution, facilitate the settlement sessions. (However, we do not have “staff facilitators/mediators”.)
  • The model of service delivery is a hybrid of the classic four-stage, interest-based mediation model and early neutral evaluation, which allows our trained family law practitioners to provide a “reality check” to clients during the settlement process while remaining neutral.
  • We provide pre and during settlement services legal advice to clients through brief services at our LSCs.
  • We also provide post-FSS (“close the loop”) legal services to assist clients in finalizing the entire or key parts of an agreement into the form of a court order or minutes of settlement that the client can rely upon in the future. Staff law offices and roster lawyers primarily provide these services under limited scope services certificates.

Early indicators from our project are that we are assisting people in reaching agreements. During the 2011-12 fiscal year, we accepted 470 files into the project. Of the 297 files that closed this year, 88 per cent achieved full or partial resolution.

LAA has hired an external consultant to evaluate the FSS project and expects a report in fall 2012.

Staff Law Offices 

Family Law Office (FLO)   In the 2009 LAA Review, LAA identified Wetaskiwin as an underserviced area in the province. Consequently in 2011 FLO began providing various legal services in that jurisdiction. Initially FLO provided senior staff counsel to act as duty counsel to provide much needed legal advice and representation in provincial court. Later FLO piloted duty counsel in the Court of Queen’s Bench. This past year FLO also prepared to open a full representation office in Wetaskiwin, which began providing service to clients in April 2012. 

From April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012, FLO’s family resource facilitators (FRFs) provided 12,953 services to clients. FRFs are individuals with a background in social work who work directly with clients to develop plans to resolve any personal and family issues within the context of their litigation.  They also assist victims of family violence with safety planning and are instrumental in assisting lawyers in achieving early resolutions in child welfare matters. 
In the past 10 years, FLO has assisted 33,652 clients.
This past year, FLO was able to complete 3,119 files. FLO staff counsel provide legal advice and representation to clients in all levels of court for a variety of matters including: divorce, custody, parenting and contact, guardianship, child maintenance and spousal support, grandparent contact orders, representation of children in high conflict custody proceedings, child protection/child welfare matters and resolution of matrimonial property disputes.  FLO also assists clients in finalizing settlements (“closing the loop”) achieved by Family Settlement Services mediation and provided limited scope representation.

FLO also offers an Emergency Protection Order Program (EPOP) in Edmonton and Calgary.  FLO provides legal assistance and duty counsel to claimants in both applying for emergency protection orders in provincial court and during the confirmation hearing on those orders in the Court of Queen’s Bench. 
 
In Calgary, FLO expanded its EPOP service to include confirmation services in the Court of Queen’s Bench. Due to a specific directive provided by the judiciary in Calgary, there has been a significant increase in the number of emergency protection orders granted and confirmed at both court levels. In addition, our EPOP staff are active in providing information sessions and workshops to agencies that provide service to family violence victims.

Youth Criminal Defence Office (YCDO)   YCDO provides advocacy for youth in conflict with the law. Both Calgary and Edmonton locations provide legal assistance to youth on a daily basis both inside and outside of the youth justice court. The assistance includes: immediate legal advice, Brydges services (after-hours legal advice), making application for judicial interim release, seeking withdrawal of charges, conduct of trials, entry of guilty pleas, speaking to sentence, and conviction and sentence appeals.

Outside of court, YCDO services include screening youth to identify realized or potential risk factors, followed by customized case plans and resource recommendations.

In 2011-12, YCDO achieved a significant decision from Court of Queen’s Bench prohibiting mandatory minimum fines for municipal bylaw offences for youth.

YCDO staff are deeply committed to supporting programs and influencing policy that protect children’s rights and provide for children’s needs. In 2011-12, YCDO staff continued to support stakeholders as board members, advisors, and through expert presentations on the Youth Criminal Justice Act and related topics. For example, YCDO staff served this year as advisors to the Canadian Bar Association Mentor Program, the Youth Justice Roundtable and Student Legal Assistance. YCDO also sustained innovative programs from previous years and helped create the 24/7 Youth Worker Program in Edmonton in collaboration with REACH (City of Edmonton), Edmonton Police Service, Edmonton John Howard Society, IHuman, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, and the Youth Restorative Action Project.

Central Alberta Law Office (CALO)  CALO, located in Red Deer, provides civil law (and some criminal) legal services mostly within the judicial district of Red Deer, which includes the cities of Lacombe and Red Deer, the towns of Blackfalds, Innisfail, Olds, Ponoka, Rocky Mountain House, Rimbey, and Stettler, and the First Nations of Sunchild and O’Chiese. 

From April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012, CALO lawyers handled 584 certificate files (210 carried over from the previous year and 194 remained active at year-end) and opened more files, from 338 to 374. In addition, CALO staff lawyers provided advice to 562 walk-in clinic clients.

CALO provided youth court duty counsel for 815 individuals in Red Deer, Stettler and Rocky Mountain House. CALO staff lawyers travelled to the Bowden Federal Correctional Institution to provide legal advice and defend 144 inmates during internal disciplinary court.  CALO staff lawyers also advocated for 20 youth detained under the Protection of Children Abusing Drugs Act, and 64 claimants in emergency protection review hearings.  Support staff provided referrals to 156 individuals and provided external legal education to a further 62 individuals. CALO’s client resource facilitator provided services to 906 individuals in an effort to bring about an earlier resolution of their respective legal issues.  These extended services enabled CALO to assist approximately 2,167 individuals in 2011-12.

Legal Aid Alberta at Siksika Nation  This program is a joint initiative with the Siksika justice department, and is the only program of its kind in Canada. The office is located on the Siksika Nation and provides legal advice and brief services to clients in criminal law, family law and other civil law matters.
 
LAA provides persons appearing in adult criminal, youth and family courts with duty counsel and full representation. Staff work closely with the court worker and the Aiskapiimokiks program (traditional dispute resolution) administered by the Siksika justice department.
 
LAA staff also assist clients applying for legal aid. Occasionally, a staff lawyer acts as a neutral advisor during Siksika Tribunal and Judicial Dispute Resolution proceedings. In addition, staff offer public legal information sessions, advice clinics and presentations to various community groups. Moreover, staff members participate in community events hosted by Siksika Nation, e.g. Siksika Justice Law Day.
 
In the 2011-12 fiscal year, the Siksika staff lawyer assisted 620 clients as duty counsel at provincial courts (criminal, family and youth). An additional 1,440 clients received services at the law office during the same period.