Adequate and sustainable funding for Legal Aid
The Alberta Party supports the goal of adequate, sustainable and predictable funding for Legal Aid. Legal Aid is often the only protection vulnerable citizens have from abuses, either private or from the State.
Adequate and sustainable funding needs means assured multi-year commitments to enable the system to make more effect and efficient operational plans. Such plans should include staff capacity to do referrals to other social service agencies for accused citizens who require assistance that is more suited to their needs than judicial processes.
Better service delivery means we need to focus on more reasonable hourly rates available to Legal Aid lawyers, even though still much less than market rates. That additional compensation enables them the time deliver their best work and still contribute, in part, to a pro bono spirit of service to the community. It would be worth exploring ways to give some tax relief by way of credits to lawyers who consistently do Legal Aid cases.
The Justice System is woefully inadequate for servicing the working poor, which is a growing segment in our society with the rise of the “gig economy.” Minimum wage, even after recent increases, is still insufficient to be self-sustaining or to raise a family. There needs to be discretionary fund within Legal Aid budget to have some flexibility on accepting a wider range of recipients who face complex legal problems. You should not have to be destitute to access Legal Aid funded justice due to socio-economic hardship, mental or physical disabilities or cultural barriers like language.
Our adversarial legal system is too blunt an instrument to be optimal in resolving complex matters of concern in personal intimate relationships between adults and between adults and children. The cultural changes in society and the fluid definition of the modern family is moving too quickly for our slow and pondering legal systems to stay current and effective.
We have had a good start in moving towards a more integrated and comprehensive direction in the Reforming of the Family Justice System initiative, but progress seems ways too slow. We have come a long way in private commercial and property dispute resolution through mediation and arbitration processes. We need to continue that model and embed it into Family Law matters for resolution of disputes on property matters.
We need to remove the adversarial context of the legal system around Family Law matters. We need to continue to move and pick up the pace towards a co-creative design approach to resolving family-based relational disputes. Success must be defined as achieving mutually beneficial long-term outcomes, not winners and losers as in the adversarial model. Taking into consideration the changing nature of family, the extra-judicial resolution of property issues and ensuing informed fairness and equity should be the goal of any Unified Family Court approach.
With no-fault divorce, we have a more human-centred approach to solutions. The role of the Courts should then be to ensure that there is informed consent, fairness and equity as between parties in breakup situations. Since children can’t give informed consent the issues of fairness and equity is especially important where children’s needs are concerned. The Courts should be where the social responsibility of the Parens Patriae doctrine is exercised. The Courts should review and be satisfied all settlement agreements to ensure children’s rights are paramount and achieved when they confirm by way of a Judgment on all other aspects of a Family Law dispute resolution or other matter.
Resources for the Justice System
Resulting from the decision R v Jordan, Canada’s justice system has evolved and we can no longer say that justice is denied by delay in criminal matters as a consequence of this decision. In private or non-criminal State related matters there are serious access issues, especially for the middle class. The wealthy can afford access, the poor have state sponsored access but most citizens in the middle simple can’t afford the legal system as it is currently configured.
There are too many process delays indulged by the court and legal system now, especially in private litigation matters. Justice is denied because one of the party’s pockets are deeper than the other and they get worn down to accepting unfair settlements or total losses because they can’t afford to continue.
There needs to be real costs imposed by the Courts in Case Management roles on litigants who use delay tactics in this way. It will speed up the process, make it more equitable and may push the parties to achieve settlements more promptly.
Technology is and will continue to dramatically change the legal profession and it should also be embraced by the Courts. Application of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning could be brought into the Alberta Justice system for demonstration and implementation purposes over time. With the Common Law basis of Stare Decisis these tools lend themselves ideally for ways to get process improvements, clearer decisions based on precedent and fewer issues needing judicial consideration. Alberta is a world leader in areas of AI and ML.
We could do the world a favour, save time for Courts and litigants, save money, reduce the anguish and anxiety of the parties and get better decisions if we used these new technologies intelligently. Rather than build more expensive to operate physical infrastructure we should leap ahead and invest more resources into a 21st century Justice System.
Drug Treatment Courts and Other Specialized Courts
Our judicial system is essentially a social service operation, at every level and role from Juvenile, to Family to Civil and Criminal matters. However, it is not the most effective front-line institutional response for assisting citizens suffering from diseases related to addictions and mental illness. That said Courts could be a greater catalyst for better citizen-centred services and be part of a more integrated and comprehensive approach to treatment of citizens with these diseases. The Courts could, through its decisions, also have a strong positive impact on public policy approaches to providing appropriate services, without being accused of “judicial activism.”
Funding these long-term integrated and comprehensive solutions can’t be year-to-year to be efficient and effective. Funding needs to be secure stable, sufficient with some built-in flexibility to be nimble and agile enough to explore new approaches for continuous improvement. Funding envelopes must have terms of at least five years to be outside the political and election cycles.
Without Judicial Independence there is no Rule of Law. Without Rule of Law there is no stable democracy. The current judicial appointment process seems to work very well. We see not need to change that except to ensure the Minister in charge of Judicial Appointments is also independent of political interference.
To that end the Alberta Party would separate the roles of the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General. The Minister of Justice should be the sole Judicial appointing officer in his or her absolute discretion. However, the appointments could only be made from a list of recommendations made as per the current independent candidate review process.
AG would be the head of prosecutions. The AG would attend Cabinet to know what the tenure and tone is about new laws. They could and should comment and advise on process and resource issues including practicality around enforcement. They should be advisory but not be part of the Cabinet decision.
Judicial compensation must be established independent of the government budget processes and constraints. Compensation must be reasonable to ensure any member of the Courts are not suffering financial hardship but comparisons with private practice or private sector remunerations are false equivalencies. It is a public service role after all, and compensation should reflect that reality.
Truth & Reconciliation Calls to Action
- An Alberta Party government would do its part, as a shared responsibility with the federal government, to deliver on the Call to Action around Child Welfare sections 1 to 5.
- An Alberta Party government would work in consort with the Federal government where provincial collaboration and cooperation is needed to assist in advancing the Call to Action in Education sections 6 to 12 as well as any responsibilities of the province within section 62 to 65.
- An Alberta Party government would to its part and work with the federal government as a shared responsibility to fulfill the provincial responsibilities in the Call to Action Health sections 18 to 24.
- An Alberta Party government would give priority to those Call to Action recommendations within provincial jurisdiction in the Justice section recommendations 25 to 42.
- An Alberta Party government would ensure that all public servants receive education in Aboriginal history, including residential schools as required by section 57.
- An Alberta Party government would work with the corporate sector in the province to encourage and enable them to take up and deliver on the Call to Action requirements in section 92.