Legal Studies 3080

Legal Aid

This may be a good time to learn a bit more about the legal services available to you if you ever found yourself, or a loved one, arrested and facing trial.

A duty counsel is a lawyer on duty at the court and the police station whose job it is to advise people who have been arrested or who are appearing before a judge and who don't have a lawyer of their own. In Alberta, duty counsels are supplied free of charge by the Legal Aid Society of Alberta; their role is to supply on-the-spot legal advice.

IF you are arrested and you have no lawyer to contact - the usual situation, by the way, despite what you might see on television shows - you can ask to consult a duty counsel before speaking with the police. Duty counsel can also help you enter your plea - guilty or not guilty - and give you preliminary advice about your case. They can help you out during your first court appearance, but that is as far as their role goes. When your case comes to trial, a duty counsel cannot represent you.

If you are within certain income guidelines - in other words, if you do not have a lot of money - the Legal Aid Society of Alberta will probably supply you with a lawyer to act on your behalf throughout your trial. Most often this service is available to people charged with a serious crime that could result in a jail sentence, but it is sometimes open to those up on a summary conviction charge as well. The catch is, though, that the service is not really free; you have to pay the Legal Aid Society when you can afford to. However, lawyers who work for legal aid charge less than other lawyers, so you are still getting a deal.

There are other sources of legal aid available to people who cannot afford a lawyer. 

    • In Calgary and Edmonton, law students operate Student Legal Services, which can give you free legal advice and even represent you in court for minor offences.

    • Calgary Legal Guidance gives free advice to people with lower incomes when they don't qualify for legal aid.

    • The John Howard Society in Lethbridge, Calgary, and Edmonton, helps people caught up in the criminal justice system with counseling and referral services.