July 13, 2021 – During COVID, many self-represented accused could not access the courthouse to speak to duty counsel due to closures of in-person services. In response, Legal Aid Alberta and our roster lawyers pitched in with a program called Advanced Appearance Duty Counsel to ensure continued access to legal advice, guidance and support.
Providing early access to legal advice helped streamline an accused’s initial appearances in CMO or docket court and prevented unproductive “churning” in the court system. It is also beneficial for self-represented accused to connect with LAA earlier to make their application and be provided legal advice before their first appearance in court.
Now known as Early Appearance Assistance, this service is being provided permanently, effective July 15, 2021.
Callers requesting this new service can request to talk to duty counsel for brief legal advice whether they are financially eligible or not. In other words, the same duty counsel support that was always provided to all Albertans on the day of their first appearance will continue to be delivered, earlier, over the phone.
In support of this service and in addressing the large number of callers who are put on hold for extended periods of time, we are also introducing a new Interactive Voice Response (IRV) system and a new queuing system to manage calls by priority.
The IVR system interacts with our callers through a recorded message and the caller responds by pressing a number for an option connecting them to a team member.
Clients in custody, under the age of 18, those making a new application or calling for Early Appearance Assistance will have their calls prioritized.
We expect there will still be high call volumes and hold times on the Status Update Queue – however, we have included messaging while the caller is on hold to provide them with the information they need to decide whether they need to stay on hold or speak to a team member at all.