Alberta lawyers agree to end legal aid job actions
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Alberta lawyers agree to end legal aid job actions

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Alberta criminal lawyers have voted to end job action in which they were refusing to take on legal aid certificates, following the province’s decision Wednesday to increase their hourly compensation by 25 per cent.

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In a news release Thursday, the Criminal Defense Lawyers Association in Calgary, the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association out of Edmonton, the Red Deer Criminal Lawyers Association and Lethbridge’s Southern Alberta Defense Lawyers Association jointly announced they were pausing their five-month-long job action in light of the increase.

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Justice Minister Tyler Shandro announced Wednesday the hourly rate for lawyers would be increased from $100 to $125 effective Jan. 1.

The increase follows a bump in October from $92.40 per hour made possible by increased federal funding.

The total increase in amounts to a more than 35 per cent increase in the hourly rate.

“We would like to thank Minister Shandro for sitting down with our association to understand our concerns,” said defense lawyer Kim Arial, secretary of Calgary’s CDLA.

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“We are grateful for all of his efforts in securing this much-needed increase, which demonstrates his commitment to a properly-funded legal aid system in Alberta. We look forward to participating in the ongoing review of all aspects of legal aid funding, where we will advocate to ensure all low-income Albertans can access the legal representation they need.”

The releases said the groups have spent months working to better the legal aid system in the province.

“Since the summer, the associations have worked tirelessly to advocate for adequate funding for Alberta’s legal aid plan. Until now, Legal Aid Alberta was compensating lawyers at substantially lower rates than what is paid in other provinces and was not providing lawyers with enough time to properly prepare for trials,” the release said.

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Chronic underfunding of the program also meant that many Albertans living below the poverty line were told they made too much money to qualify for legal aid representation. To draw attention to these issues, defense lawyers stopped providing some legal aid services in August.

In early September, more services were withdrawn. Since Sept. 26, they have refused all new legal aid files. This has caused significant backlogs in criminal courts across the province and trickle-down impacts in other areas of law (including family and child protection matters).

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“While (Wednesday’s) announcement is a step in the right direction, the Government knows there is still much work to do,” said Arial. “The associations look forward to continuing our discussions with the Government of Alberta and will continue to push for a fair and equitable tariff.

“These are important conversations to ensure fair compensation for legal aid lawyers and access to representation for low-income individuals,” said Arial.

“We are eager to discuss these issues with the Government, because the best way to promote the efficient delivery of justice is to reduce the number of self-represented litigants and to ensure experienced and knowledgeable lawyers remain willing to take legal aid files.”

[email protected]

Twitter: @KMartinCourts

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