A Legal Aid Alberta Criminal Trial Group marking its first year of operations has been in court defending youth and adults who have changed lawyers multiple times and are facing extraordinarily challenging personal issues such as mental health, addiction, and housing.
“It’s not always the complexity of the legal matter itself that is challenging – sometimes it’s the client whose personal circumstances are complex – and the legal and personal issues kind of go hand in hand,” said Sarah Lanceley, an LAA lawyer and one of two Legal Services Managers leading the CTG.
Everyone has the right to a fair trial and legal counsel no matter how difficult their personal circumstances may be.
The CTG is focusing on challenging clients who demand more time and resources from the courts and their lawyers.
“We have clients who will send you a two-page email three or four times a day and that is a lot of information and a lot of work to maintain that client confidence and make sure the case is eventually concluded,” Lanceley said.
Not all lawyers are willing or able to meet the needs of these clients so in addition to facing criminal charges, they have the disadvantage of having a string of failed interactions with lawyers. This is where the CTG comes in.
CTG team members “are putting in more time and making substantial effort” to make sure clients’ matters are resolved.
In our democratic society, everyone has the right to a fair trial and legal counsel no matter how difficult their personal circumstances may be. Without the CTG more of these clients’ cases would drag on, clogging the courts.
In its first year of operations, the CTG reviewed files for approximately 425 adults and 485 youth and have active cases for about 265 adults and 300 youth.
The CTG has resources to help clients struggling with other issues such as addictions, housing, or mental health.
“LAA has a lot of great connections with stakeholders and social service agencies that are there to get our clients the help they need as soon as they can get it,” said Inayat Jetha, a lawyer and legal services manager for the Calgary section of the CTG.
“In Calgary and Edmonton we have justice navigators on staff who help make those connections and that puts us in a unique position to help our clients get on the right track. Our clients want their legal issues to be dealt with, and when they can address other challenges they are experiencing, everything starts to come together.”
The impact of the CTG is faster resolution of matters for clients, reduced churn in the adult and youth criminal justice systems, and improved career opportunities and satisfaction with LAA – advancing our ability to hire and promote lawyers interested in handling full-spectrum adult and youth criminal cases, from start to finish, including appeals.