Alberta judge warns he will stay charges in 3 cases unless legal aid steps up

The Canadian Press
August 15, 2014 02:49 PM

EDMONTON - Alberta's largest public-sector union is calling on the justice minister for more legal-aid funding following a provincial court judge's warning.

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees says the government isn't doing enough to address a legal-aid crisis.

Assistant Chief Judge Larry Anderson has said he will stay charges in three criminal assault cases unless legal aid provides lawyers to the defendants.

Anderson points out the three are on social assistance and living below the poverty line, but their income is still too high for legal help.

The province raised eligibility thresholds by about 30 per cent in 2010.

A spokesman for Justice Minister Jonathan Denis says the ministry respects the judge's decision and will work with Legal Aid Alberta to ensure representation is provided.

The union says everyone but the justice minister can see that the legal-aid crisis has gone too far.

“Fair access to legal representation is a cornerstone of a just society, but the provincial government is not acknowledging its obligation and things are only getting worse,” union vice-president Erez Raz said in a release Friday.

Anderson said that providing access to justice “is the obligation of the government” and called current funding for legal aid “clearly inadequate.”

Denis has previously rejected calls for increased funding and has instead asked the federal government to provide more money to Alberta.

After Anderson's decision, Denis said Legal Aid Alberta is "working diligently to make its operations more efficient" and "we are willing to look at what we can do in relation to next year's budget for legal aid."

Last month, Legal Aid Alberta closed six regional offices and laid off staff in Calgary, Whitecourt and Lethbridge.

The Criminal Trial Lawyers Association has threatened job action to try to pressure the government to provide an additional $8 million a year to fund legal aid.


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