Celebrating the frontline workers of the justice system
Over 1.2 million times a year, duty counsel lawyers provide help to Canadians who don’t have a lawyer. October 27, Duty Counsel Day, celebrates their work
TORONTO, Oct. 19, 2021 – October 27 marks the inaugural Duty Counsel Day – a day to create awareness of Duty Counsel—legal aid lawyers who give free, on-the-spot, legal advice in family, criminal and immigration cases for people living in Canada.
Over 1.2 million times a year, duty counsel lawyers provide help to Canadians. Found in most courthouses across the country, duty counsel represent people who don’t have a lawyer in the initial stages of the justice system: first appearances before a judge, bail hearings, child custody matters, mental health courts and much more. Every province and territory in Canada have a duty counsel program. It’s universal and it is the backbone to access to justice.
Duty counsel are an essential service within the justice system in Canada. Like most essential services, during the pandemic, duty counsel quickly adapted to the rapidly changing landscape. Many lawyers now work in PPE in courtrooms with occupancy limits, while others appear virtually in courts held on Zoom. Whatever the circumstances, duty counsel are there for Canadians in need, because legal representation is a fundamental part of Canadian democracy.
The majority of people who appear in Canadian courts are self-represented and don’t have a lawyer. They are at risk of some very serious outcomes if they don’t understand what is happening or what is legally required of them at any given hearing – it could mean losing custody of their children, or being held in prison. Duty counsel help people make informed decisions about how to best move forward.
Canadians benefit from outstanding social services. We’re all familiar with our public health care, but few know about our legal services. Duty Counsel Day is an opportunity to celebrate the lawyers who are on the frontlines of Canada’s justice system.
ABOUT DUTY COUNSEL DAY
- An event Initiated by Canada’s legal aid associations on October 27, 2021
- Duty Counsel Day has been declared in the Senate of Canada
- Join elected officials, chief justices and judges, legal aid lawyers, staff, and clients, the legal profession, and justice supporters for a special online event on October 27 at 5 p.m. EDT. Hosted by former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, it features speakers (including the Rt. Hon. Richard Wagner, Chief Justice of Canada) along with a panel and live music.
- On October 27, Major landmarks across the country including Niagara Falls, the CN Tower in Toronto, the Burrard Street Bridge in Vancouver, Halifax City Hall and the High Level Bridge in Edmonton will be lit up in recognition of duty counsel day
“Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees our right to be equal before and under the law, and to have equal protection and benefit of the law. We know this guarantee has not always been respected. Especially for women, immigrants, people experiencing poverty, Indigenous peoples – among others. Yet every day of the week and around the clock, duty counsel uphold that guarantee, building confidence in the justice system. For many Canadians, duty counsel will be their first experience with a lawyer. And, because of their commitment and passion toward access to justice, I believe that no one else can give these people a better first impression of the profession.”
– The Rt. Hon. Richard Wagner PC, Chief Justice of Canada
“Duty counsel are lawyers with a passion for social justice – dedicated, capable and prepared to go the extra mile. They are the lawyers who wait with the anxious parent in family court, who take the time explain the charges in criminal court and connect people with important services such as interpretation, counselling or mediation. They are the front-line lawyers who defuse an anxious or confused situation with calm information. They are lawyers whose first priority is the well-being of their clients. Duty counsel are there when you need them most and they will be the last ones to sing their own praises. That’s why they deserve a day.”
– Karen Wilford, Chair, Association of Legal Aid Plans
“Access to justice is like access to health care. Nobody wants to need it, but we’re happy it’s there when faced with a life-altering crisis. Canadians know the health system is there when they need it, regardless of financial means. We want the justice system to work the same way.”
– Stephen Rotstein, president, Canadian Bar
Association Video assets for the Duty Counsel Day celebration are available on a Google Drive. Interview opportunities are available with spokespeople from across Canada.
For further information contact: Graeme Burk, Senior Media Relations Advisor, Legal Aid Ontario firstname.lastname@example.org 416-347-7862