As Alberta works through the third wave, it’s time to remember those serving on the frontlines of the justice system.
Courts are considered closed, but what does that mean for those seeking justice and legal help?
“Domestic violence didn’t go away on lockdown. People still need legal assistance. What happens to vulnerable people who urgently need help but can’t afford it?” says Legal Aid Alberta (LAA) President and CEO John Panusa.
“They come to Legal Aid Alberta.”
As Alberta works through this third wave of the pandemic and public health restrictions continue, courts have been adjourning cases and placing strict limits on in-person proceedings.
“Locked down or not, many Albertans still need legal help and access to the justice system,” says Panusa. “Even with the third wave and restrictions, LAA is continuing to provide essential, frontline legal services across the province.”
“Even with the third wave and restrictions, LAA is continuing to provide essential, frontline legal services across the province.” LAA President and CEO John Panusa
Panusa says we cannot forget that there are still many Albertans in need, including those facing legal matters in family law, domestic violence, child welfare, immigration, and youth and adult criminal law.
“People who are in police custody and presumed innocent are vulnerable too. They risk losing their jobs or missing child support payments. Legal Aid lawyers are still conducting bail hearings — more than 28,000 during the last year — virtually and by phone 16 hours a day, seven days a week,” Panusa says.
Not commonly known to Albertans, with few exceptions, LAA duty counsel lawyers for family and adult and youth criminal matters — the first lawyer many people will speak to — have remained on the frontlines of the justice system, appearing in court in person and virtually for the duration of the pandemic.
Until this May, many duty counsel lawyers attended court in person, with strict capacity limits in courtrooms and PPE available for those attending, Panusa says.
Victims of domestic violence come to us seeking protection from their abusers, fearing for their lives and the safety of their children,” says Panusa, adding that virtual court appearances in these highly charged cases are often easier on clients who are afraid to face their abusers in person. During the pandemic, LAA saw an eight per-cent increase in Emergency Protection Orders, a service that provides immediate protection from family violence.
Like many essential service workers, LAA’s team of lawyers continue to work on the frontlines of the justice system during this difficult time, serving Albertans at all hours of the day, virtually and face-to-face.
LAA services have never stopped, in person and virtual
• LAA has 300 staff helping people in more than 75 communities across Alberta.
• In addition to staff lawyers, LAA has a network of 1,200 private practice lawyers across the province who take on legal aid cases.
• LAA’s contact centre receives an average of 800 calls a business day from people who need our help.
• LAA assists adults, youth, families, children, new immigrants and refugees.