Changes coming to Alberta’s legal aid system

On Thursday morning, Premier Rachel Notley will announce new support for Alberta’s legal aid program.

The province said the announcement will ensure all Albertans have fair access to the justice system.

READ MORE: Albertans to have access to Legal Aid lawyers at 1st appearance bail hearings

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In April, the government said Legal Aid Alberta lawyers would be made available at first appearance bail hearings to reduce court backlogs and help Albertans understand their rights. Many people accused of crimes were previously representing themselves during the bail process.

The announcement came after a Calgary defence lawyers’ group said it was going to stop working pro bono to put pressure on the government to increase Legal Aid funding. The Criminal Defence Lawyers Association wanted a 65 per cent increase over four years, starting with a 40 per cent bump in 2018.

In the first two years of its term, the NDP government increased funding to Legal Aid Alberta by more than 20 per cent, and then by another 10 per cent in the fall of 2017, bringing annual funding to $89 million.

The Calgary defence lawyers group said $150 million is needed to run the program properly.

READ MORE: Alberta launches review of legal aid program struggling to keep up with demand

In 2015, the province launched a review of Alberta’s Legal Aid system. Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said it was time to look at how the arm’s-length agency funds and runs its operation.

Legal Aid will also stop offering legal counsel for cases involving debt, housing, and employment law. The agency says those were a small percentage of their caseload, and eliminating them will allow for a better focus on criminal law, family and child welfare, and immigration matters.

— With files from the Canadian Press 

— More to come…

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