July 24th, 2024

Legal Aid extension gives hope to Alberta lawyers

By Justin Sibbet - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on July 9, 2024.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDjsibbet@lethbridgeherald.com

Following several days of fear, legal aid is going to remain operational in Alberta until at least early September, though there are still concerns about the future of the program.

Legal Aid Alberta released a joint statement alongside the Minister of Justice, Mickey Amery and the Law Society of Alberta on Friday. The statement says an extension was agreed upon by all parties following the governance agreement having expired at the end of June.

“The extension ensures the independence of Legal Aid Alberta. All parties agree this is necessary to carry out its mission of upholding the Rule of Law and protecting the rights of disadvantaged Albertans in the justice system.”

While the statement confirms legal aid will continue issuing new certificates for those who require the service, one southern Alberta lawyer is remaining cautiously optimistic about the future of legal aid.

Greg White, president of the Southern Alberta Defence Lawyers’ Association, says the various defence lawyer organizations across the province are not involved in the governance agreement, so their information is limited despite the agreement impacting them greatly.

“We’re outside of the loop and we just have to sit and wait to see what happens,” White said Monday

He says if this saga of legal aid concern is not fixed before Sept. 5, the date the extension ends, some lawyers in Alberta could lose their livelihoods.

“It would put staff lawyers for legal aid out of a job and it would seriously hamper the business interests of a lot of lawyers who rely on legal aid payments as the bulk of their practice,” said White.

Despite the concerns for fellow lawyers, he says there is a silver lining, giving a lot to be happy and relieved about following the announcement of the legal aid extension.

“Defence lawyers across the province are grateful that the parties have come back to the table,” said White. “We are optimistic that they will be able to resolve the issues that they were negotiating on in relation to the governance agreement.”

White says the situation is still developing and more information will likely come out over the next couple of months.

“This happened on Friday and we haven’t been able to get back together to discuss where we go from here,” said White. “I believe the Southern Alberta Defence Lawyers, in combination with the Red Deer Defence Lawyers, the Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association and the Criminal Defence Lawyers’ Association will communicate with the Law Society of Alberta, the Government of Alberta and Legal Aid Alberta between now and the extension date and try and get more information, see what’s going on and see if we can provide some input.”

He says he hopes lawyers across the province will be consulted about all changes going into the future governance agreement.

“I wish that I could be in the room with the parties and be able to hear what their concerns are and give input on behalf of the organizations across Alberta.”

He says this attitude is shared by many lawyers and legal organizations in Alberta.

“We want to help; we want to be there to provide input and have a collaborative solution.”

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