The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide general information on legal issues within the Province of Alberta. The purpose of this topic is to inform you of your legal rights and responsibilities. This is not legal advice. If you require legal advice, you should contact a lawyer.
This topic discusses Alberta’s Duty Counsel and Court Assistance Programs.
Duty Counsel are lawyers who provide legal advice and assistance at court appearances for individuals who do not have legal representation. Duty counsel is a free service available to all Albertans. The Legal Aid Society of Alberta provides duty counsel in the following Alberta courts:
- criminal courts (both adult and youth divisions);
- drug treatment court;
- disciplinary hearings at correctional facilities;
- family matters (in both Provincial court and Court of Queen’s Bench); and
- child welfare dockets in Provincial court.
Criminal Court Duty Counsel
Duty counsel can assist individuals with their criminal court appearance. Assistance can include asking the judge to move the matter to a later date, seeking a withdrawal of charges, making an application of bail, or entering the accused into a plea. If an accused pleads guilty to the offence, duty counsel can speak to the sentence on the accused’s behalf.
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 ask for reconsideration on a previous bail decision.
Duty counsel is also available for persons needing assistance with Mental Health Review Panel hearings.
Family Court Duty Counsel
Duty counsel can assist individuals with their family court appearance. Assistance can include providing advice on parenting, child support, custody, guardianship or court procedures, or speaking on your behalf in court on simple matters.
Small Claims Duty Counsel
Duty counsel can assist individuals with their small claims appearance. Assistance can include providing legal advice on civil law topics such as rules and procedure, providing help with motions, completing forms, or speaking on your behalf in court on simple matters. If you are dealing with a civil matter that is not a small claims matter, the Court Assistance program may be useful.
Finding Duty Counsel
At the courthouse where the matter is being heard, duty counsel may be found by asking a court clerk or staff at the Court House. In some courthouses, duty counsel will wear a badge that says “Duty Counsel”.
Duty Counsel Services
Duty Counsel can provide information, guidance and advice to anyone prior to their appearance. They also may speak to the Court on a person’s behalf.
The purpose of Duty Counsel is to give a person a chance to speak with a lawyer before they appear in court. Duty Counsel can assist in various ways; however, they will not take on your whole case or represent you at trial. Should you require full representation by a lawyer for the remainder of your matter, duty counsel may recommend you hire a lawyer or apply for legal aid, depending on your financial situation.
Priority of Duty Counsel
Priority is given to accused persons in custody and those who are unrepresented at their first court appearance.
Failure to Speak with Duty Counsel
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. Once the judge calls your name, ask them for time to allow you to speak to Duty Counsel before dealing with your case.
For more information about Duty Counsel in your area, contact your local Legal Aid Office.
Court Assistance Program (Queen’s Bench Amicus Program)
The Court Assistance Program is a free service available for self-represented litigants appearing in the Court of Queen’s Bench and Masters Chambers. This program provides lawyers and law students to assist self-represented litigants. Assistance can include providing legal advice, document preparation, referrals, or speaking to the court about the issues of the matter and what the individual’s position is.
Dial-A-Law is a Calgary Legal Guidance public service project funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.