LAA has been informed that the Government of Alberta has discontinued in-court services for their Family Court Counsellors (FCC) program through Resolution and Court Administration Services (RCAS).
We have been informed that as of January 4, 2021, RCAS is no longer offering FCC in-court assistance in Calgary and in Medicine Hat.
As of February 1, 2021, FCC in-court assistance will no longer be available in any court location. This includes all services offered by FCCs outside of the PC family docket court. FCCs will no longer be present at Court or outside of the Court.
RCAS will continue to provide services by phone or intake appointments for:
This change will greatly impact our family DC lawyers who are serving clients on the frontline. Without the support of FCCs, there will be added pressure to LAA’s family DC teams to fill the gap in Alberta courtrooms. DC lawyers should not be providing any services in lieu of RCAS (i.e. drafting responding materials for self-represented individuals). As you can imagine, given the fiscal landscape, LAA is not funded to fill this gap and does not have the resources to have more DC lawyers.
As per the Governance Agreement respecting legal aid, duty counsel is: “the provision of lawyers at courts or hearings to provide legal representation to individuals who do not have a lawyer present.”
The LAA DC role remains the same and LAA must continue to fulfill this role. We must continue to ensure that our limited resources are being directed to where they are needed. If family DC takes on this extra load, there is time and opportunity cost that may keep us from assisting those who need our services the most.
We have been encouraged to continue to refer Albertans to RCAS when appropriate. Self-represented parties in select locations have to attend a Case Flow conference before they ever get a family court docket date before a judge or see LAA duty counsel for legal advice on their court date.
To support Albertans and RCAS, LAA has plans to have an informational stand at various courthouses where people can pick up brochures and info sheets about LAA and RCAS. Please encourage clients to stop by the info stand, visit the RCAS website or contact RCAS by phone at 1-855-738-4747.
We know this service decision from the Government of Alberta will have an immense impact on courthouses across the province and that it will directly impact our frontline staff who serve the justice system. We anticipate high volumes of people, delays, adjournments, and a saturation of need for DC and we will continue to focus on managing that.
We are here to support the role of DC and will be sending out a survey to our staff and roster family DC team in the next few days. We want to understand which support resources continue to be available to Albertans in the various courtrooms across the province as many changes have occurred as a result of COVID-19. We also want to know what else we can do during this challenging time to support our team on the frontlines of the justice system.
We understand that this situation changes every day of the pandemic and we all wait for advice from the Government of Alberta on health advice and guidance. If you have any questions or would like to discuss more fully, please email [email protected].