by Morinville News Staff
The government says it is introducing duty counsel, a free service available to all Albertans regardless of income levels, at first appearance bail hearings to reduce court backlogs and help Albertans understand their rights.
Many people facing charges are self-represented during the bail process currently. Under the new system, Legal Aid lawyers will provide basic information, guidance and advice to help accused persons at their first bail appearance. Duty counsel may also attend the hearing and speak on behalf of the accused.
The government believes this new system will create efficiencies in the legal process by reducing the number of court appearances for an accused, freeing up time and resources in Alberta’s courts and remand centres.
The NDP’s 2018-19 budget allocates $89.3 million for Legal Aid, $7.9 million more than the previous budget.
“Our government is committed to an effective and efficient bail system,” said Kathleen Ganley, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General. “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. This initiative will help balance public safety with the need to protect the rights of individuals.”
The new system is the result of the recommendations coming out of the 2016 Alberta bail review final report.
Legal Aid Alberta Chair Deanna Steblyk said Legal Aid Alberta services provide legal representation for Albertans while also enhancing the efficiency of Alberta’s justice system.
“Providing duty counsel at first appearance bail hearings will help all Albertans, regardless of their circumstances, understand and protect their rights under the law,” Steblyk said.
New duty counsel lawyers will be recruited and phased in by Legal Aid Alberta over the coming months. Full staffing is expected by the fall.
Duty counsel will be available during bail hearing office hours of operation – 16 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.