The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide only general information on legal issues within the province of Alberta. This service is provided by Calgary Legal Guidance funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation. The purpose is to make you aware of your legal rights and responsibilities. This is not legal advice. If you require legal advice, you should contact a lawyer.
This topic discusses the Duty Counsel program. Duty Counsel provides legal advice and assistance for your first criminal Court appearance, if you are unrepresented by counsel.
The Legal Aid Society of Alberta provides a lawyer for Duty Counsel at both adult and youth divisions of the Provincial Court House. You may find Duty Counsel by asking the Court workers or staff at the Court House where to find Duty Counsel. Also, all Duty Counsel Lawyers’ wear a badge that says “Duty Counsel.” Duty Counsel is also available for persons wishing assistance for Mental Health Review Panel hearings.
Services by Duty Counsel is free, there are no financial guidelines for this legal service.
Duty Counsel can provide information, guidance and advice to you prior to your appearance. Depending on the situation, they may speak to the Court on your behalf. Keep in mind, Duty Counsel help people who are unrepresented at the first Court appearance only and can only offer limited basic services. Should you require full representation by a lawyer for the remainder of your case, Duty Counsel may direct you to apply for Legal Aid or hire a lawyer privately.
The main purpose of Duty Counsel is to give you a chance to speak to a lawyer before you appear in Court. If you need assistance and did not get an opportunity to speak to Duty Counsel before Court begins, wait in the Court room until your name is called and then ask the Judge for time to allow you to speak to Duty Counsel before dealing with your case.
Duty Counsel can assist you by asking the Judge to have your case put over to a later date. Duty Counsel can also assist you to enter your plea or if you plead guilty, they can speak to sentence on your behalf. Duty Counsel cannot represent you at your trial.
Priority is given to persons in custody. If you are held in custody and would like to see Duty Counsel tell the staff. An in-custody interview may be arranged on your behalf. Duty Counsel may speak to your release, but cannot appeal a previous decision about bail.
For more information about Duty Counsel in your area, contact your local Legal Aid Office.