Gateway Gazette

Government to Review Legal Aid Services

The Government of Alberta is launching a legal aid review that will identify how to best provide legal aid services to Albertans.

As the Government of Alberta is responsible for ensuring Albertans have access to a fair justice system, it will be leading the review.

“We want to make sure we’re protecting the most vulnerable Albertans by providing adequate access to legal services. We also have a responsibility to ensure we use tax dollars prudently. In the interim, I have accepted changes proposed by Legal Aid Alberta to help keep legal aid assistance available to those most in need, which is the core focus of the program.”

~ Kathleen Ganley, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General

The review will explore and seek input about:

  • governance
  • scope of services
  • financial eligibility guidelines
  • service delivery model
  • rate for tariffs paid to private bar lawyers representing Legal Aid Alberta clients
  • long-term strategy to deal with court orders for publicly-funded representation
  • affordability of Alberta’s legal aid program

In addition to engaging Legal Aid Alberta (LAA), government will be seeking feedback from legal aid clients as well as stakeholders in the legal community, such as the Law Society of Alberta, the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association, the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association and community legal clinics. Service providers, courts, and government departments will also be engaged.

These consultations together with a review of best practices will ensure a variety of viewpoints are used to inform recommendations, which are anticipated in late spring 2016. Any further changes are expected to be made after the review is completed.

To address immediate pressures, LAA proposed changes that are designed to focus on better helping low-income Albertans access core legal aid services. These changes have been accepted by the Minister and include:

  • an increase to the qualifying income threshold (financial eligibility guidelines) for legal aid;
  • an increase to the hourly rate (tariff) paid to private bar lawyers representing LAA clients;
  • extending Family Duty Counsel to a number of high need courts in addition to the services currently available in Edmonton and Calgary.
  • a change in the scope of services to keep the focus on providing a greater degree of assistance to low-income Albertans.

A full description of these and other changes is being made available through LAA.

“LAA is experiencing record call volumes and more people than ever before are qualifying for representation. These approved changes help deal with immediate funding pressures on an interim basis and avoid the need for additional funding this year, while enhancing services in the areas of greatest need and value to Albertans.”

~ Suzanne Polkosnik, Q.C., President & CEO, Legal Aid Alberta

Legal Aid Alberta is an independent society governed by a Board of Directors, which administers the legal aid program in Alberta. The governance agreement between the Government of Alberta and Legal Aid Alberta has been extended to March 2017 to facilitate the review.

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