Here are five highlights from Legal Aid Alberta’s 50th year of providing access to justice for disadvantaged Albertans.
The past 12 months have been special and eventful for Legal Aid Alberta. Here is a short – but by no means complete – list of highlights of 2023:
1. Legal Aid Alberta celebrates 50 years of service
As Canada’s oldest Legal Aid plan, we marked our 50th anniversary and redoubled our commitment to providing high quality legal representation to help Albertans who could not otherwise afford a lawyer.
Connecting with all Albertans was one important goal in our anniversary year. More than 800 Albertans registered for the Legal Aid Alberta Public Education Series – three free public webinars hosted by experienced LAA lawyers focusing on teens and crime, the role and impact of duty counsel, and how LAA helps people facing domestic violence.
We also began providing volunteer services to help disadvantaged members of our communities. In Edmonton, dozens of LAA staff members took part in four volunteer opportunities at the Hope Mission.
2. Improving efficiency with a new Tariff
LAA is committed to operating efficiently and effectively. One major step forward was completed in April when a modernized LAA tariff came into effect.
Also known as the Tariff of Fees, the tariff dictates how private-practice lawyers who take legal aid clients should be paid, and how we work together for Albertans. The tariff rate – the amount LAA roster lawyers are paid – is the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice.
The updated framework means modernization and simplicity – not just for staff and lawyers, but for all Albertans who rely on Legal Aid Alberta’s services.
The Tariff Modernization Project has increased efficiency by simplifying the invoicing process and providing roster lawyers with the proper recognition based on the complexity of the legal matter. In 2023, more than 300 roster lawyers attended information and training sessions for the new Tariff.
3. A new Strategic Plan
A new strategic plan introduced early this year redoubles LAA’s commitment to quality, access and organizational accountability.
The plan puts quality representation first, and among the steps to help maintain and improve that quality is the establishment of legal panels. These panels are staff and roster lawyers who have, or have committed to attain in-depth knowledge and experience of specific areas of legal practice. New LAA legal panels cover major crimes, youth criminal law, child welfare, complex cases and more.
4. Duty Counsel Day in the Classroom
LAA spearheaded the creation of Duty Counsel Day, a national day to raise awareness of the vital work of lawyers called Duty Counsel. Working in courtrooms across Canada, duty counsel provide free on-the-spot legal advice to people making their first appearance in court on a criminal or family law matter.
This year, Duty Counsel Day activities focused sharply on raising awareness and growing affinity among school students from Grade 7 to 12.
Classrooms were transformed into courtrooms where teachers and students could play out mock court sessions. Other activities included in-person classroom visits by duty counsel.
Some statistics from Duty Counsel Day 2023:
5. Supporting our Indigenous community
The enduring impact of residential schools, the 60s Scoop and other colonialist practices continue to be felt in communities across the country. Many of our clients are suffering the effects of intergenerational trauma brought on by such programs. Our staff see the effects of these historic wrongs in courtrooms every day.
In the spirit of truth and reconciliation, we are committed to educating all members of our organization on this dark chapter of our history, and how we can achieve reconciliation. We continued this in 2023 through our role providing duty counsel at Indigenous courts in the Tsuu’tina and Siksika nations, as well as in Edmonton and Calgary Indigenous Courts.
As a part of our annual activities for National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, we held an all-staff presentation (live and virtual) to hear the experiences of retired judge John Reilly in his changing relationship with Indigenous people appearing in his court over the years.