EDMONTON – The provincial government has announced a new initiative in an attempt to reduce court backlogs.
Duty counsel services will now be available at first appearance bail hearings in the province. The system, a free service available to Albertans regardless of income levels, sees Legal Aid lawyers providing basic information, guidance and advice to help accused persons at their first bail appearance.
Currently, many people facing charges are self-represented during the bail process.
“Our government is committed to an effective and efficient bail system,” said Kathleen Ganley, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, in a news release. “The comprehensive review of Alberta’s bail system in 2016 highlighted how important it is to put the most important information in front of decision makers so the best possible decisions can be made. Making Legal Aid duty counsel available at first appearance bail hearings is a key part of that. ”
The government says having duty counsel at first appearance hearings will help create efficiencies in the legal process. Duty counsel can also attend hearings and speak on behalf of the accused. This can reduce the number of court appearances for an accused, and free up time and resources in Alberta’s courts and remand centres.
Duty counsel at bail hearing offices was a recommendation of the 2016 Alberta bail review final report.
Legal Aid Alberta will be recruiting the new duty counsel lawyers over the coming months and these positions will be phased in, with a full staffing complement expected by the fall. The lawyers will be available during bail hearing office hours – 16 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
This initiative follows a successful three-month pilot project that saw Legal Aid Alberta provide duty counsel at first appearance bail hearings in late 2016.
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