Several Alberta lawyer associations are calling on the provincial government to provide more funding to Legal Aid in the province.
The Criminal Defence Lawyers’ Association in Calgary, the Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association in Edmonton and the Southern Alberta Defence Lawyers’ Association released a joint statement Saturday saying the government has underfunded Legal Aid in recent years. The groups say that funding has not kept in line with inflation leading to defence lawyers struggling to make a living.
“Like Legal Aid roster lawyers, Crown attorneys had not seen a pay increase for seven years. During that same time period, the Bank of Canada has reported an inflation rate of 19.7 per cent. Many defence lawyers haven’t been able to make a living, leading some to change sides and opt for the stable salary and benefits provided by Crown attorney positions,” reads the statement. “Like the Crown Attorneys’ Association, our members are only asking for fair compensation. Our pay must be brought in line with roster lawyers in other provinces. At present, it is nearly 40 per cent less.”
Crown attorneys in Alberta raised concerns earlier this year over their pay, leading to negotiations being opened with the province.
The defence lawyer associations said in their statement the “most minimal provisions” of legal aid in Alberta is at a breaking point. They said underfunding lawyers on the roster discourages senior, experienced lawyers from taking legal aid cases which in turn leads to fewer learning opportunities for junior attorneys.
“These short-term consequences carry long-term implications and will inevitably lead to a roster of lawyers with limited experience in criminal law,” read the release. “The quality of legal services will deteriorate, and the risk of wrongful convictions will grow. Which means more appeals, more retrials, more victims returning to court, more waste of precious court time, and more Jordan stays of serious prosecutions. You can count on it.”
The associations said the province has also failed to deliver on a funding agreement agreed upon in 2018 with a $40-million funding gap in 2021-22, according to figures released by the defence lawyers.
They said they had reached out to Shandro asking for a reply to their concerns by July 29 but had not received a response. They said they will meet later this week to discuss next steps.
Requests for comment sent to Shandro’s office Saturday evening were not returned.
Legal Aid is a publicly-funded non-profit organization that provides Albertans with affordable legal services in family law, domestic violence, child welfare, immigration, and youth and adult criminal defense.