IG news Update,
As lawyers push job action to demand improved Legal Aid Alberta (LAA) funding, the organization is now joining calls for more provincial funding.
Members of four defense attorney organizations, as well as family attorneys who take on Albertan cases qualified for legal aid assistance, staged a walkout on Friday at courthouses in Edmonton, Red Deer and Calgary.
The Criminal Defense Lawyers Association in Calgary, the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association in Edmonton, the Southern Alberta Defense Lawyers Association and the Red Deer Criminal Lawyers Association represent hundreds of lawyers.
The LAA receives provincial funding that pays for Albertan attorneys who qualify for its services.
Lawyers are demanding an increase in the rates paid to lawyers who take on legal aid cases, arguing that the province lags behind other jurisdictions.
In August, job action began after lawyers began rejecting some of the new legal aid files.
On Wednesday, members of the unions voted to expedite action and will stop accepting any new legal aid cases starting Monday.
This means that individuals who have been charged with criminal offenses ranging from burglary to murder, who cannot afford a lawyer, may find themselves unable to get one.
Some family lawyers doing legal aid work also plan to dismiss new cases.
“If ministers let this go on for a long time, it is going to create a COVID-like bottleneck because there is going to be no trial, unrepresented people are going to rot in dock court, not knowing what to do with their charges. should do,” said Danielle Boisvert, president of the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association in Edmonton.
He said the lawyers will continue to work with existing clients seeking legal aid.
Boisvert said it is unlikely that the judge will pursue the case if someone does not have proper representation. She said judges would probably approve more robotham applications — a process by which courts can appoint legal representation.
She said that the money for the lawyers appointed in this way ultimately comes from the LAA.
Lawyers are also calling for a change in eligibility for legal aid, arguing that the income cutoff is too low and many Albertans are unable to access or afford a lawyer.
Legal Aid Alberta joins call for increased funding
Regarding its previous stance, the LAA sent an email to its roster of lawyers on Thursday saying it now supports an “in-principle increase” in the tariff rate paid to lawyers performing legal aid work.
Earlier this month, LAA President John Panusa wrote an editorial attacking the job action of roster lawyers, saying the organization already had enough funding to support its services.
The editorial angered some in the legal community, leading to calls for Panusa’s resignation. But according to a copy of Thursday’s email provided to the CBC, LAA supports some of the calls for change.
The LAA has not responded to a request for interviews.
The email said the LAA’s board of directors met with the CEO and executive leadership team on Wednesday and reaffirmed their “statement of principles” in response to job actions by roster lawyers.
“There has been no increase in LAA tariffs since 2015 and any increase should be attributable to an increase in inflation over the past seven years,” the email said.
“We believe that the extent of the tariff increase should be, at a minimum, guided by the tariff rate for attorneys in Ontario and British Columbia.”
The email also said that the LAA is concerned that eligibility for legal aid services — and which services are covered — has lagged behind and behind other Canadian jurisdictions since 2015.
The email said a person earning $20,021 per year is eligible, but would lose that eligibility if their income only increased by $100 a month.
However, the statement also emphasized that the LAA continues to support the legal aid regime agreement created in 2019, saying it provides a sustainable and predictable funding model.
In an emailed statement, Justice Minister Tyler Shandrow said the increase in fees for lawyers would be considered part of the 2023 provincial budget.
Previously, his office said a review was underway to determine whether the LAA’s budget should be increased.
“Legal aid authorities in Alberta and justice have begun this work, and if there is evidence to support an increase in the rate paid to criminal defense attorneys, it will be included in the 2023 budget submission,” said Shandro. he said.
Boisvert said Friday afternoon that nothing changes from Shandro’s statement and that job action will proceed as planned on Monday.
He said the lawyers want the province to commit to immediate action.