Roster Update

Answers to three common questions about the duty counsel role 

October 26, 2023

While criminal duty counsel (DC) performs damage control to assist accused persons until they can obtain counsel, their role is more complex. Practically speaking, DC lawyers ensure the smooth operation of the court system. This means that duty counsel is not there just to adjourn matters but can and should seek appropriate resolution whenever possible. 

Q.     Is there anything that duty counsel cannot do?

A.     Duty counsel does not run trials. They can set trial dates but cannot conduct the trial itself.

Q.          As a roster duty counsel, what information should be included in correspondence to DC for a simple adjournment agency request? 

A.           Apart from the basic identifying information – client’s name, charges, docket, location of appearance and general instructions – correspondence should answer the following questions:  

  • Has the lawyer spoken with the client? 
  • Is the client in or out of custody? 
  • If out of custody, is the client attending? 
  • If in custody, do they need to appear by CCTV (confirm client agrees not to be brought out)? 
  • Is there a D.O.C. filed? 
  • Who is or is going on the record? 
  • If required, is contact information (e.g., the phone number lawyer can be reached during court) available for further instructions? 
  • Is the Crown aware of the adjournment request (a good idea is to shoot the Crown an email before the court)? 
  • Is there a valid reason for adjournment and a confirmation of no contentious issues, such as “no further adjournments previously endorsed”? Duty Counsel lawyers are willing to assist. However, they should not be expected to make submissions on contentious adjournments. 

Q.     Are family duty counsel permitted to assist both parties if they are self-represented?

A.     The short answer is yes. This is possible because Family Duty Counsel provides summary advice regarding the next steps instead of any substantive advice that could create privilege. It is important to tell both parties that you may be speaking to the other person.

Do you have questions about the duty counsel role that you would like to see covered in the Roster Report? Send your submission to [email protected]

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