Nowadays, many Albertans are representing themselves in court. But where can they (or where do they) get reliable information?
To respond to the growing demands of litigants without lawyers, Alberta Justice brought together in 2005 members of the judiciary, representatives from criminal justice, legal and court services, as well as various advocacy and research groups. By early 2007, the group had identified available services and in April, the first Legal Information Centre (LInC) opened in Edmonton and Red Deer. A branch followed in Grande Prairie and the Calgary branch opened in January 2009. All centres are located in the courthouses and their services include: referring litigants to legal and other resources in the community, providing information about legal advice options, providing information about alternatives to court, providing legal information, explaining court procedures, explaining the steps to take in making legal applications and helping litigants locate and fill out court forms. In order to contact a LInC, litigants fill out a form online or visit the center in person. Furthermore, to accommodate a rising numbers of family law inquiries, Family Law Information Centres (FLIC) were created in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer, Lethbridge, Grande Prairie, and Medicine Hat.
For those who are trying to get information online, undoubtedly the best place to start would be the LawCentralAlberta website. It provides access to a wide range of information to help people make informed decisions about going to court and represent themselves or about seeking a lawyer’s assistance. To start with, the site gives access to laws of Alberta, Canada and to resources on Canadian legal structure. Next, one can select resources which are based on specific interests or developed for specific a group of people (such as seniors, people with disabilities, refugees). And of course, the ‘Preparing for Court’ section contains vital information that will help with the decision to:
- go to court;
- use an alternative process;
- self-represent; or
- retain a lawyer.
Its resources are free and cover issues like renting, writing a will, reverse mortgages, debt, psychological abuse, grandparents’ rights, child support, etc. It also provides contact information for courts, government services, agencies and organizations, and police services. The ‘Videos and Games’ section has an interesting selection of resources about the law and the legal system. Also worth mentioning is the website’s French-language equivalent, the LawCentralFrançais.
Another very helpful source to consult is the Alberta Courts website, in particular, the “How do I …” section, which answers questions about small claims, rights of tenants, being a witness, emergency protection orders and mediation, among many others. For families who are involved in parenting disputes and are living separate and apart, Alberta Courts’ Family Justice Services – Court Counsellors offers a wide range of free services including: information on options and services for resolving family issues; referrals to services and programs including mediation; information on the effects of separation and divorce on children; help to negotiate agreements; assistance with court applications; arranging court dates and presenting a case in Provincial Court.
Student Legal Services in Edmonton is a student-managed, non-profit society dedicated to helping low-income individuals understand their legal issues and solve their legal problems. Its resources cover topics in criminal law, like “How do I run my own trial” or “Speak to sentence”, but also answer questions about impaired driving, domestic abuse or trespass. Civil (human rights, immigration law, wills, etc.) and family law matters (common questions about divorce, marriage, matrimonial property, etc.) are also covered.
And last, Supreme Court of Canada also has online resources available for unrepresented litigants. Besides the very useful Q & A section, the site gives access to sample books on applications for leave to appeal, reply and motion. Also, it provides forms and guidelines on how to prepare documents, and has a checklist for documents to be submitted. One interesting feature on this portal is the ‘Glossary of terms’, which provides definitions for the most-used legal terms.
Besides these online resources, LInC and FLIC, there are many agencies and organizations (like Centre for Public Legal Education, Legal Aid Alberta, Edmonton Community Legal Centre, Pro Bono Law Alberta, and Volunteer Lawyers Service, just to name a few) that provide support to anyone in need of help with legal matters.