As the pandemic threatens to push our health care system to the brink, other essential sectors are also being stretched beyond their normal limits – including the justice system. Staff shortages and temporary closures of courts in Alberta due to COVID are causing a growing backlog of legal cases in all areas of law.
Legal Aid Alberta lawyer Paul Welke points out that LAA has been continuing to innovate and serve vulnerable and disadvantaged Albertans.
The Provincial Court of Alberta implemented a closure to almost all in-person matters from January 4 to February 18 (Note: At the time of this broadcast, court restrictions were set to end February 4), to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“This is just a natural outcome of dealing with a pandemic,” said Welke. “But for people whose matters are delayed, it can be very frustrating. These legal issues are hanging over their heads. Whether they are family issues like divorce, or criminal charges, people’s lives are being put on hold. Thankfully, some urgent cases are still going ahead in the courts, virtually, as well as in person in some cases.”
Welke says people who have urgent matters like emergency protection orders in family violence cases, child welfare cases where someone’s safety is at risk, as well as criminal trials where the accused is in custody – those are still going ahead. And LAA has begun using a new Early Appearance Assistance service to connect people to a duty counsel lawyer up to 14 days before their first court appearance.
Previously on Ask A Lawyer:
Ask A Lawyer: Tips for co-parenting and holiday visits
Ask A Lawyer: Duty Counsel Day and the impact of duty counsel lawyers
Ask A Lawyer: The Vital Role of Duty Counsel
Ask A Lawyer: Indigenous Courts and Restorative Justice
Ask A Lawyer: Mental Health and the Law
Ask A Lawyer: Immigration and Refugee Claims During the Pandemic
Ask A Lawyer: Teenagers and Crime
Ask A Lawyer: Child Support Payments