Duty Counsel — Legal Aid Manitoba’s Child Protection Law Office
Growing up as a child who nearly went into government care himself, Alan Loney knows the impact duty counsel can have on a child’s life.
Today, as duty counsel who takes on cases at Legal Aid Manitoba’s Child Protection Law Office, Alan can relate to the children he helps.
“The children that attend court are often scared, and some want or need changes to the Child and Family Services agency’s plan,” Alan says. “We work right there in the hallway of the courthouse with the social worker and agency lawyer advocating for the changes being asked for by the child.”
Alan, who holds a bachelor of arts and a law degree, began his career as an entrepreneur, but later switched to law to help families. In private practice from 1997 to 2004, he worked as a family law litigator. Alan was one of only a few lawyers in Winnipeg practising collaborative family law in the late ‘90s.
He joined Legal Aid Manitoba in 2004 to help develop the Collaborative Family Law Project.
“I knew I could only help those who would let me help them,” says Alan, whose work with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg also showed him the difference he could make in a child’s life. “Once I got into law school, that became my driving motivation and I knew I would end up doing family law and child protection.”
In 2016, Alan began focusing on child protection, which made him realize the importance of duty counsel. While he can’t always change the outcome of someone’s interaction with the courts, he says he knows he can help people gain a greater understanding of what is happening so they can work towards resolving their legal problems. Without duty counsel, parents can get lost in the court system, making them unsure of what steps to take next.
As duty counsel, Alan helps people access justice, whether or not a client’s case is successful.
“You have an immediate impact on somebody’s life,” Alan says. “Even if you’re giving them bad news, you can also give them a plan to change their situation. You see the difference you make, sometimes in the moment.”
For people experiencing difficulty having their voice heard in the justice system, getting help from duty counsel to access justice and navigate the legal system is vital, according to Alan. Duty counsel can summarize the legal process for clients, and help people communicate their needs to the courts.
One of Alan’s favourite responsibilities of duty counsel is as amicus curiae, or friend of the court, when the court appoints him to speak on behalf of a child.
“I speak to the kids as part of addressing their rights, and present their position to the court. Where the child’s views differ from the agency, or the parents, amicus curiae is appointed,” he explains. “Maybe I see myself in those kids. If I could just represent the children, that would be my dream job.”