Criminal duty counsel: The triage model and what we’ve learned so far

LABC recently introduced the triage model for out-of-custody duty counsel to ensure safety in the court and to help clients navigate a different process during the pandemic.
Woman interviewing man

We’ve posted new materials in the Resources section of Lawyer Portal to support your practice. Here are some of the things we’ve learned about the triage model:

Safety comes first

Face masks or coverings are now required in BC courthouses and all other public settings. For more information on health and safety protocols for in-person proceedings, please read the Provincial Court of BC’s November 25, 2020, Notice to the Profession and Public. In addition, the space used to interview clients must provide protection (through physical distancing, air circulation and/or Plexiglass barriers) and privacy to discuss a client’s case. If the designated interview space does not have this protection, please raise your concerns with the court’s administration. If matters cannot be resolved, contact LABC for support.

Connecting clients to lawyers

We encourage work on clients’ cases to be conducted away from courthouses, whenever possible. Duty counsel is asked to ensure that clients have the ability to follow up with a lawyer after their appearance. They can be connected to a lawyer even before legal aid eligibility is confirmed. We encourage clients to apply for legal aid by phone, but lawyers can apply via email on a client’s behalf even after beginning to assist.

Helping vulnerable clients

We know there are many vulnerable clients who are not able to follow up with appointments or legal aid. We encourage duty counsel to take on clients who do not have lawyers, or are not able to effectively follow up on their own. This is an exception to the usual rules against touting.

Avoiding appearances

The court relies on you to take necessary steps to avoid personal appearances, as laid out in the October 7, 2020, practice direction for initial appearances. LABC encourages you to use the consent arraignment and consent requisition forms to ensure people only attend IAR court when necessary. The court encourages longer adjournments to give counsel time to either resolve or substantively move a case along, with six to eight weeks considered the norm. Matters can be called ahead earlier, as appropriate.

LABC has found the triage model to be working reasonably well in most locations. Courts are managing long remand lists, clients are being connected to appropriate legal assistance, and cases are getting resolved or set for trial. Criminal Early Resolution Contracts (CERCs) are helping clients get early advice and appropriate resolutions to cases. The triage model provides a structure that allows you to assist clients through these trying times. Thank you for your continued commitment and good work.