More than 1,700 students in schools across Canada are learning about Duty Counsel Day, their legal rights, and the justice system.
October 26, 2023 — This week, junior and senior high school students across Canada are learning about their legal rights and how front-line lawyers called duty counsel protect Canadians and keep the justice system functioning.
More than 1,700 students and teachers from nearly every province and territory will participate in Duty Counsel Day in the Classroom on October 27, learning about the vital role of duty counsel, whose job is to provide free, on-the-spot legal advice in criminal and family court cases.
Classrooms will be transformed into mini courtrooms for students to role-play a typical day in docket court. Hands-on lessons have been customized to the high school curriculum in each province and territory, helping teachers plan and meet their learning objectives.
Duty counsel services are delivered by legal aid lawyers in courtrooms across Canada. It is estimated that duty counsel handles 1.2 million legal assists every year. Without duty counsel, courts would be clogged with people with little to no knowledge of the law or justice system representing themselves.
Curious students get “first-hand knowledge”
In addition to providing teachers with a mock courtroom scenario that can be played out in the classroom, schools can invite duty counsel to speak to their students.
Educators know this is important information for young Canadians.
“My students are very curious about how the system works, especially duty counsel,” said one Grade 9 teacher participating in the program. “It’s wonderful to have experts available to satisfy their curiosity with accurate information and first-hand knowledge.”
Students are learning why duty counsel matters, how to access it, and what working as a frontline lawyer is like.
Supreme Court of Canada recognition
In a video message to students and teachers, Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Richard Wagner explains that one of his priorities as chief justice is to encourage people to learn more about our courts and justice system. And he puts the vital service of duty counsel into perspective.
“Just as emergency doctors and nurses are prepared to deal with critical medical problems, duty counsel have the expertise to handle urgent legal problems,” he says.
“Duty counsel help individuals understand their rights, and treat everyone with dignity. Their contributions to our justice system deserve recognition.”
Lighting up red
That recognition will be visible on Duty Counsel Day, as landmarks across the country will be lit in red on Oct. 27, including Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, the CN Tower and Niagara Falls.
Duty Counsel Day was initiated by the Association of Legal Aid Plans of Canada in 2021 and proclaimed in the Canadian Senate by the Honourable Patti LaBoucane-Benson.
Teachers across Canada can register for a free teaching kit. The lesson library includes a direct tie to each province and territory’s curriculum, videos, discussion questions, and a “Day at the Courthouse” mock court exercise.
A summary of duty counsel services by province/territory.