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Youth criminal defence office.

Introduction

Young persons who reside in Alberta, who are 12 to 18 years old, and who are charged with criminal offences are entitled to legal counsel. If the young person or a parent can afford to do so, they can retain a lawyer privately. However, if the young person or his parents do not retain a lawyer privately and the young person wishes to have a lawyer, a Youth Court Judge will refer the young person to the Legal Aid Society of Alberta. The Legal Aid Society will appoint a lawyer if the incomes of the young person and the parents do not exceed the maximum set out in its guidelines.

If the young person wants a lawyer but does not qualify for legal aid coverage because of the income of his parents -- although the parents are not willing to retain a lawyer privately -- a Youth Court Judge will direct that the Attorney General of Alberta provide counsel for the young person. Under an agreement between the Legal Aid Society and the Attorney General, the Society also appoints counsel for these young people.

Even for young persons, legal aid is not free. When the case is concluded, the young person receives an account for the services provided by lawyers appointed by the Legal Aid Society. Generally, however, the accounts are for much lesser amounts than those of lawyers retained privately. The Society also attempts to be sensitive to the financial situation of the young person when seeking to collect payment.

In most of Alberta, legal services for young persons are provided by private lawyers who are prepared to accept cases from the Legal Aid Society and to bill the Society on the basis of Legal Aid fees. Since 1993, however, the Legal Aid Society has used a different method to deliver legal services to young persons who are charged with criminal offences in Calgary and Edmonton. Except where there is a conflict of interest, the Legal Aid Society refers its clients in those two cities to the Youth Criminal Defence Office (YCDO).

Governance and Structure

The Youth Criminal Defence Office is the product of an agreement between the Law Society of Alberta, the Attorney General of Alberta, and the Legal Aid Society. The Legal Aid Society agreed to establish offices in Calgary and Edmonton staffed by lawyers employed by the Legal Aid Society. These lawyers are charged with the responsibility of providing "Brydges" service and duty counsel service to young persons. They also act as assigned counsel for young persons referred to the Office by the Legal Aid Society.

The YCDO operates under the supervision of a Senior Counsel who is hired by and reports to the Board of Directors of the Legal Aid Society. The Office also employs eight other lawyers in Calgary and seven in Edmonton. Two social workers, four youth workers, and four administrative employees support the lawyers. The Edmonton office also has access to a psychologist through a pilot project with the Child and Adolescent Services Association.

Most of the funding for the YCDO, as with all legal aid, originates with the provincial government. In order to ensure that the YCDO is independent from improper government influence and receives sufficient funding to provide service that is at least commensurate with that provided by the private bar, a formal Governance Agreement exists. It provides Senior Counsel with resort to a Resolution Committee if he or she feels the integrity of the Office is threatened.

Services

The YCDO provides several services to young persons in conflict with the law:

* "Brydges" Service

Both the Calgary and Edmonton offices provide a 24-hour telephone service that operates throughout the year to provide legal advice to young persons who are detained and in need of immediate legal advice. The primary restriction on the service is that it is for young persons detained pursuant to the Young Offenders Act or the Protection of Children Involved in Prostitution Act. In common with the remainder of the operation, the service is restricted to the geographic boundaries of Edmonton and Calgary.

* Duty Counsel

The two offices provide legal assistance to unrepresented youth on a daily basis in Youth Court docket courts in Edmonton and Calgary. The assistance includes providing immediate legal advice, making applications for judicial interim release, seeking withdrawal of charges, entry of guilty pleas, and speaking to sentence.

In the year ending March 31, 2001, YCDO lawyers made some 8,800 duty counsel appearances.

* Assigned Counsel

As with the private bar, the Legal Aid Society issues certificates to the YCDO authorizing staff lawyers to represent young persons in trial and appellate courts in Edmonton and Calgary. The legal representation includes providing legal advice, making applications for judicial interim release before the Youth Court and the Court of Queen's Bench, entering pleas, conducting trials and other hearings (such as applications for transfer to adult court or to adult facilities and reviews of dispositions), and speaking to sentence. Staff lawyers also advance and respond to appeals. The majority are sentence appeals to the Court of Appeal.

In the year ending March 31, 2001, YCDO lawyers were assigned to act in over 3,500 cases.

* Social and Youth Worker Services

The YCDO operates for the benefit of young people and young persons as clients that have special needs that must be addressed. The problems are many and various. Homelessness, poverty, addiction, sexual and/or physical abuse, fetal alcohol syndrome, and learning disabilities are all common and can all contribute to conflict with the law.

Whenever possible, the social and youth workers employed by the YCDO prepare release and sentencing plans for lawyers to present to the court. Generally, they advocate the use of community rather than custodial resources to promote rehabilitation and to deal with problems contributing to criminality. The social and youth workers may also advocate for services for the young person. These may be sought from the child welfare, education, or health systems.

* Pro-active Measures

Given the nature of their work, lawyers and other staff at the YCDO develop an expertise in the unique problems facing young people and the law relating to them. This knowledge brings with it a responsibility to help develop resources that are needed in the community. The YCDO advocates for such resources and, where feasible, co-operates with other agencies to help create them.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Legal Resource Centre of Alberta Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Holtby, Brian
Publication:LawNow
Date:Oct 1, 2001
Words:1053
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