Pro bono appeal program 'good quality advocacy:' Daviau
By Tony Poland, AdvocateDaily.com Associate Editor
PIA started as a pilot program in 1999 after defence counsel identified that a number of inmates — often the most disadvantaged — were forced to represent themselves in complex criminal appeals without legal assistance.
“I was junior at a firm where there were lawyers involved. I wasn't with the program then, but I was able to help out and became familiar with what they did and the work,” says Daviau, who joined the PIA in an official capacity three years ago.
There are 40 lawyers in the program who all have appellate experience. The volunteer group acts as duty counsel on a roster basis to cover 12 days of sittings in Kingston — two days every second month. The program switches over to Toronto for six days of videoconference sittings and 22 days at the Court of Appeal over the course of a year.
Daviau, who practises with Rosen & Company Barristers and frequently acts for clients on appeals of conviction and sentence, says when sessions are held in Kingston “the Toronto court literally packs up, and they bring their own registrars, clerks, and judges, and they go and convene court.”
“It's just one of the many ways we can give back,” she says. “The inmates we assist don't have lawyers, are never going to be able to retain lawyers, and don’t qualify for legal aid, so if counsel doesn't help them, they’re virtually on their own to raise what can often be complicated legal issues.”
Daviau explains that appeals are “not about calling evidence and witnesses” for an inmate without access to legal expertise. Rather, the program provides other vital services.
“It's a difficult process for someone who doesn't have a lawyer. Keep in mind the clients we’re helping are incarcerated, and they have very little access to the outside or any resources,” she says. “Plenty of times you're able to help someone who otherwise would have never been able to do it on their own, so there's a feeling of satisfaction that comes from that.”
Lawyers will sign up on the dates they are available and "a few weeks before the inmate’s appeal date you will get case material" from the Crown, Daviau says.
“You will get any number of matters, and if you see a legal issue and you think you can help, you will speak to the appellant and, if they want your assistance, you help them argue their appeal,” she says.
Daviau says lawyers must have experience handling appeals and need to be approved to participate in the program.
“It’s not like the more people the merrier in the sense that it’s open to everybody. It is quite intentionally capped to a smaller group of lawyers who do appeals,” she says.
Daviau notes, “The lawyers who are part of this program are all extraordinarily dedicated to assisting inmates. It’s good quality advocacy, and the program has a very good reputation."