Justice of the Peace Bail Program ensures Albertans have proper legal representation at no cost during one of the most difficult points in their lives.
This year marks over 120,000 bail hearings completed by Legal Aid Alberta (LAA) lawyers.
Imagine this: you’re driving, and the police pull you over. They take your cell phone and wallet, then put you in a cell at a police station. Hours later, they put you in a room with a phone and a phone book. The phone numbers you need are in your phone. You’re in custody and you have no idea what’s happening or what you should do.
LAA’s dedicated, seasoned lawyers work tirelessly to help and represent people in situations just like this. They ensure access to justice for adults and youth held in custody: those who, in our democracy, are innocent until proven guilty.
“Having a lawyer at a bail hearing is extremely important,” explained Zane Pocha, duty counsel bail lawyer with the Legal Aid Alberta bail team – a team who last year alone completed over 28,000 bail hearings. “For an accused adult, it is the first step in the court process, and they only get one shot at getting released.”
Since its inception in 2018, the Legal Aid Alberta Justice of the Peace Bail Program lawyers have represented Albertans in custody who have not yet gone to trial and may be unaware of their legal rights.
They’ve completed over 120,000 hearings in just four years for people who, without representation, may have had to face a confusing and intimidating justice system alone.
Fortunately, Legal Aid Alberta is available by phone 16 hours a day, 365 days a year to protect the rights of all Albertans.
Being granted bail is a big deal for someone in custody. They often have jobs to attend, houses and families to look after and responsibilities that need to be met – things that can’t be done from inside of a cell.
“If denied bail, people run the risk of losing their livelihoods, their children, their possessions,” said Pocha. “Without representation, people might agree to anything just to be released, even if the release terms set out by the court unnecessarily interfere with their lives.”
Helping the client and the courts
Proper representation also helps not just the client, but the courts, too, explained Pocha. “We often clear up matters that could contribute to further clogging up of provincial courts. Without representation, they would, for example, have no one to convince Crown prosecutors to amend release conditions or withdraw charges at the beginning stages, contributing to a potential backlog of cases.”
The LAA Justice of the Peace Bail Program was created to help level the playing field as individuals face Crown prosecutors at bail hearings. If someone is awaiting their bail hearing, a bail lawyer can be accessed through the program to provide information, advice and representation. Legal Aid Alberta lawyers can also provide assistance for those with mental health challenges and language barriers.
Even if someone still chooses to self-represent or doesn’t qualify for legal aid, bail lawyers are available to provide free legal advice over the phone and duty counsel lawyers are available in-person at Alberta courts.
LAA Duty Counsel Bail Lawyer Lori MacKay said, “We want to make sure that people who have been arrested are getting the best possible opportunity to be released and not have to face their charges from custody before they even get to trial.”
“Bail, next to a trial, is the most important stage for a person dealing with criminal charges. A single day of liberty lost can never be regained – and we work hard every day to prevent that from happening.”
Getting arrested can happen to anyone
While people may think they’ll never find themselves in police custody, getting arrested can happen to anyone. People are pulled over and arrested by police day in and day out. They’re placed in cells with no phone or wallet. And it could happen because of something as simple as missing a court date for a traffic ticket.
Legal Aid Alberta represents individuals in this kind of situation every day. Those who are being questioned pre-arrest or are looking for representation after an arrest can find LAA’s phone number posted on the wall at most police stations.
These services are FREE to all Albertans, so you never have to face this kind of situation alone.
To apply for legal aid, please call 1-866-845-3425. You can also get assistance by approaching an LAA duty counsel lawyer at Alberta courts.
About Legal Aid Alberta
Legal Aid Alberta is a not-for-profit organization that provides legal representation and support for Albertans facing legal issues.
LAA provides legal services to clients in support of fairness in Alberta’s justice system – services that help ensure Albertans in all circumstances can understand and defend their legal rights.