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Legal Aid services agreement extended to September

The Minister of Justice, Legal Aid Alberta, and the Law Society of Alberta agreed to extend the recently expired Governance Agreement until September 5, 2024.
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Legal Aid Alberta (LAA) will continue to provide lawyers and services to low-income Albertans as the publicly funded organization extended its agreement with provincial government. The organization had originally given notice it would cut services to new clients of Tuesday, July 9 due to negotiations stalling between the two parties as the June 30 contract deadline approached. 

According to the LAA website, the Minister of Justice, Legal Aid Alberta, and the Law Society of Alberta agree to extend the recently expired Governance Agreement will continue until September 5 as both sides work on a longer term agreement.

The recent extension ensures the independence of LAA, something that was agreed on to uphold the Rule of Law and protect the rights of disadvantaged Albertans in the justice system, according to LAA’s recent release.

Justice Minister Mickey Amery said they recognize that legal aid is an important tool for many Albertans who may face financial barriers in accessing legal support and reassured Albertans those services will continue to be available.

“The Law Society of Alberta’s role as regulator of the legal profession remains unchanged, and they will continue to be involved in legal aid board governance via the bylaws of Legal Aid Alberta,” Amery stated. 

“The funds our government has already provided Legal Aid Alberta in this budget year are more than sufficient to maintain a strong roster of lawyers as well as day-to-day operations in the coming months, pending finalization of the new funding agreement.”

The extension allows the three parties time to finalize the negotiation of a new Governance Agreement for a long term and independent legal aid program. 

With the expectation of productive negotiations and the extension of the Governance Agreement in place, Legal Aid Certificates will continue to be issued. LAA stated they will not be engaging further with the media at the time.

 

Previous Negotiations

Negotiations with Alberta’s government stalled as the June 30 contract deadline approached. 

A deal put forward by the Ministry of Justice on June 27 gave the minister authority to adjust funding, restrict the use of funds, and terminate the grant agreement on 30 days written notice, according to a LAA release. It would also remove the Law Society of Alberta as a party in the agreement, said LAA Board Chair Ryan Callioux.

Minister Amery said over the last nine years, Legal Aid Alberta's grant funding from the Alberta Government has almost doubled, growing from $66 million in Budget 2015 to $110 million in Budget 2024, with expenditures projected to be over $138 million this year. 

“Obviously, this funding growth is unsustainable,” Amery said. “Even more puzzling to our government is the fact that despite this massive increase in funding, Legal Aid Alberta is not materially expanding the number of clients it serves, nor is it being forthcoming with a credible explanation or details as to why this is the case.

According to publicly available annual reports, LAA issued 41,490 certificates to assign lawyers to cases in 2015-16 and 59,599 in 2023-24.

 

With files from Brett McKay, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter


Masha Scheele

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