Cuts to Legal Aid hurt Alberta’s most vulnerable, exposes a system in crisis
Posted on July 15, 2014 by Greg Clark
Yesterday’s announced closure of several Legal Aid offices and reduced service at others will lead to more people representing themselves and will deny fundamental justice to some of Alberta’s most vulnerable people, says Alberta Party leader Greg Clark.
“Legal Aid in Alberta has been in crisis for a long time,” said Clark. “It is a fundamental cornerstone of our legal system that people are presumed innocent until proven guilty and are entitled to a lawyer”.
“These closures will make it that much more difficult for vulnerable Albertan’s to obtain access to justice, lead more people to represent themselves and contribute to further delays in our already over-crowded justice system.”
Clark says the cut-off for entitlement to Legal Aid is already very low. A person receiving Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) makes too much to be eligible for Legal Aid.
“Alberta’s income limits are too low, and they’ve been cut back over time” said Clark. “People making over $1,350 per month do not qualify, whereas people making up to $1,750 per month were eligible in 2009. This leaves the vast majority of people out in the cold.”
He also called on the Alberta government to enshrine Legal Aid in law.
“Alberta is one of only two provinces in Canada whose Legal Aid system is not statute-based,” said Clark. “This means Alberta Justice, the same organization responsible for prosecuting alleged criminals, controls how much money is made available for defending those same people. The government has not funded Legal Aid sufficiently to provide the services required by our increasing population. The number of police officers and prosecutors in the province has increased significantly in the last few year and the budgets to support these increases has been made available; however, the resources for Legal Aid to provide legal services to vulnerable Albertan’s has not seen the same sorts of gains.”
Clark said the province should also insist that the Legal Aid Society which administers the Legal Aid system in Alberta look to cutting its bureaucracy and prioritize providing legal services over middle management.
“The administration of Legal Aid has grown rapidly,” said Clark. “Significant cuts can be made to the bloated bureaucracy without impacting Legal Aid clients.
“This is another case where more focus is needed on front line services for Alberta’s most vulnerable. There’s no excuse for a situation like this in a province with Alberta’s resources.”