Legal Aid Alberta combines expertise of youth and adult criminal lawyers to improve access to justice for vulnerable Albertans

LAA’s Criminal Trial Group prioritizes needs-based representation instead of age or location.

Communications and Public Relations
February 12, 2021

As part of our Governance Agreement commitment to being innovative, flexible and responsive along with our strategic goal of being a Centre of Excellence, Legal Aid Alberta is improving delivery of criminal law services at a time when demand for legal aid has never been greater.

Historically, LAA’s staff lawyers have provided full-scope representation to young people facing criminal charges under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, while our staff duty counsel did not assist adults with matters that proceeded to trial.

Now, instead of narrowly focusing on the age of our clients to determine if a staff lawyer can take a matter to trial, we are adopting a single, combined group called the Criminal Trial Group. This team takes a more holistic look at a client’s needs and circumstances – and their ability to choose a lawyer – to ensure that LAA can take that client’s matter to completion.

Key Advantages of the Criminal Trial Group

  • Prioritizes needs-based representation instead of age or location.
  • Combining specialties enhances LAA’s strategic goal of being a Centre of Excellence in criminal law.
  • Maximizes LAA strengths in technical areas of law.
  • Streamlines certificate selection process and integrates file systems.

Criminal Trial Group to represent adults with heightened vulnerabilities

The Criminal Trial Group is intended to represent a limited number of adult clients, including former youth clients who now face adult charges, clients who have struggled to maintain a lawyer-client relationship, clients with heightened vulnerabilities or special needs, and clients with no realistic ability to choose their own counsel. LAA remains committed to respecting choice of counsel in adult criminal matters.

Criminal Trial Group Case Study

What kinds of files will this group handle? Here’s one recent example of how LAA’s Criminal Trial Group helped a client who had struggled to keep many lawyers.

  • Although the client was eligible for LAA coverage, the client had discharged two previous roster lawyers.
  • Over the history of the file, LAA had offered the matter to 19 different roster lawyers – without finding a lawyer who could see it through to trial.
  • The trial judge was very eager to see the matter go ahead on the next scheduled trial date and encouraged LAA to appoint a lawyer as soon as possible.
  • A lawyer from the Criminal Trial Group stepped up on short notice, earned the trust of the client, and completed the jury trial for the client.

This case highlights the key benefits of the LAA Criminal Trial Group. In challenging and complex cases like these, it can help avoid further delays in the court system while ensuring vulnerable Albertans do not proceed to trial without a lawyer.

Criminal Trial Group enhances support for Alberta youth

Young people are some of the most vulnerable clients we serve. Criminal Trial Group lawyers in Edmonton and Calgary still represent youth who face criminal charges and fit within our service mandate to take on the most vulnerable and high-needs youth clients. At the same time, LAA is making progressive changes that empower roster lawyers to take more youth criminal cases.

This spring, we are establishing a Youth Criminal Law Panel made up of roster lawyers from across the province who have experience and demonstrated interest in youth criminal law and who are eager to make a difference in the lives of young Albertans. Lawyers on the panel will be first in line when a youth certificate is offered to the roster particularly for very serious and specialized charges like sex assaults.

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