Legal Aid enhances services in COVID

Richard Froese
South Peace News

Albertans can remotely prepare for court in a new Legal Aid Alberta (LAA) initiative.

A duty counsel team provides critical services to rural communities until the end of August during the COVID-19 pandemic.

People may access advance appearance duty counsel until Aug. 28 to allow them to prepare for court by phone or e-mail instead of making a trip to the courthouse in person, says a news release from LAA on July 30.

The new approach, launched by LAA to temporarily help the provincial courts amid COVID-19,has served hundreds of people since it started on July 3 in response to Alberta courts reopening July 6.

“With advance appearance duty counsel, people can contact our duty counsel up to 14 days in advance before their court date itself and we can help them,” says Edmonton-based LAA staff lawyer Colin Laychuk.

“Navigating the courts can be scary, but we can help them get their case started, provide legal advice and information, request disclosure on their behalf, and connect them with legal aid or a lawyer referral service if they’re unrepresented.”

Provincial court judges support the concept.

“Having the option of dealing with legal matters up to 14 days in advance also offers peace of mind to anyone with a court date looming.” Assistant Chief Provincial Court Judge Ray Bodnarek agrees:

“The Provincial Court of Alberta is grateful to LAA for providing enhanced support to self-represented individuals during this time to help address the challenges associated with ensuring access to justice for Albertans during the pandemic response.”

LAA has received positive comments about the plan.

“This has been a good test run for the future in terms of how we handle the delivery of these services,” says Laychuk.

“It is a temporary initiative, but we are proud of our duty counsel team stepping up over the summer and we continue to work together with the courts to find solutions to better serve Albertans.”

LAA continues to work with the courts and partners to reimagine processes and innovation in order to serve more Albertans and help them navigate the justice system.

For more information on advance appearance duty counsel, connect to the online site at https://albertacourts.ca/pc/resources/covid/covid-19-criminal-and-youth-criminal-matters/CMO.

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