Legal Aid Ontario expands duty counsel role

Friday, February 22, 2013

Duty counsel lawyers are the heart of Ontario’s justice system for many marginalized people in Ontario. They are the LAO lawyers or LAO-paid private bar lawyers who are available in our courtrooms to represent and advise every low-income or unrepresented person who walks through the door.

With duty counsel able to perform expanded duties on our team, we can try out things, be innovative and experimental.

“Immanuel and Paul can get in touch with our duty counsel managers in courthouses throughout the GTA to see where they’re needed, conduct legal research on defenses, assist with regional training, provide additional duty counsel resources on an emergency or one-off basis, and take the time to provide one-on-one support, inside and outside the courtroom.”
– Paula Beard, LAO’s Director of Criminal Law Services, GTA Region

Now some of LAO’s duty counsel lawyers can do even more, through an innovative service delivery model LAO is pioneering in Barrie and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

Enhanced criminal duty counsel in the GTA

Thanks to an innovative service delivery model LAO is now pioneering, every day brings new challenges to the GTA’s two expanded criminal duty counsel lawyers Paul MacLeod and Immanuel Lanzaderas.

Since their arrival at LAO in May 2011, Paul and Immanuel have advised clients right in their community, planned training days for their peers, and stepped in as duty counsel when a courtroom’s regular duty counsel can’t come in.

Best of all, their possibilities for providing LAO clients with better access to justice through a wide range of services – traditional and non-traditional – can only grow.

Training GTA criminal duty counsel

To begin with, Paul and Immanuel have helped the GTA’s Continuing Professional Development committee plan three successive annual professional development training days. These events are open to all of GTA’s criminal duty counsel – LAO staff lawyers as well as non-lawyer staff.

LAO’s Quality Service Office gets further mileage out of them by recording and posting the day’s activities online for staff unable to attend in person.

The day provides participants with almost all the certified professional development hours required annually by the Law Society of Upper Canada. And it is so successful, the GTA office has decided to ask Paul and Immanuel to help it return every Remembrance Day and Easter Monday.

Supporting a community-based social service hub

Paul and Immanuel are also breaking ground in an arena new to LAO’s criminal lawyers – providing their skills and knowledge within a community-based social service hub.

One of them spends a half-day twice a week at Rexdale Community Legal Clinic, providing advice and explaining the justice system to people who are charged with a criminal offence.

And because the Rexdale Community Legal Clinic works out of the Rexdale Community Hub, also home to the Youth Justice Initiative, they can also help provide young people facing criminal charges with summary advice and other services between court appearances.

Serving clients in GTA courtrooms

In addition, two or three days a week, Paul and Immanuel work in Toronto courthouses as duty counsel when private sector per diem counsel lawyers cannot come in for their shifts.

Paul and Immanuel provide traditional duty counsel services in courthouses. They dispense legal advice, represent clients, assess clients’ needs, assess the merits of cases and, if possible, help clients resolve their cases. They also offer information and referrals to nearby programs for social, housing or other services.

“It’s great,” says Immanuel

After years of working for a labour and human rights firm in the private sector, Immanuel points out, it’s great to be able to provide clients with a 20-minute consultation before they appear in court instead of two minutes of whispered summary advice in the hallway.

“I can take the time to provide people with the information they need, which will result in better outcomes for more people,” he says.

“This position also provides an opportunity, with I appreciate, to really think about ways in which duty counsel can share best practices within our region and help each location think outside its own box.”

“We add flexibility and a human face,” says Paul

Paul MacLeod, who’s expanded his local duty counsel experience with LAO to duty counsel support for the whole region has always wanted to support the disadvantaged.

“The criminal justice system can be confusing, harsh and difficult to navigate for individuals in real need of support,” he says. We add additional flexibility and a human face in an adversarial system that has to serve many people with limited resources.”

Win-win for LAO

The potential for enhanced criminal duty counsel work can only grow, thinks Paula Beard, Director of Criminal Law Services, GTA Region.

“Because they’re attached to the GTA District office rather than a single courthouse, Immanuel and Paul have considerable flexibility. And the more varied and broad the practice of these highly skilled lawyers, the bigger the picture they can see, the more they can help people and the more assistance we, as a region, can provide our clients.”



If you have any questions or require more information please contact:

Kristian Justesen
Director, Communications and Public Affairs
Phone: 416-979-2352 ext. 4782
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