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Alberta Legal Aid fight put on hold following government increase of fees paid to lawyers

Job action ongoing since August, that has seen the province’s criminal defence lawyers refuse to take on Legal Aid Alberta cases, is coming to an end.

At least temporarily.

Following the Government of Alberta’s announcement yesterday that they would be increasing the tariffs paid to lawyers from $100 to $125, the four provincial criminal defence associations have decided to put a pause on further job action.

The tariff rate is the amount that roster lawyers would get paid to do legal aid work.

“We would like to thank Minister (Tyler) Shandro for sitting down with our association to understand our concerns,” said Kim Arial, criminal defence lawyer and Secretary of the Criminal Defense Lawyers Association of Calgary.

“We are grateful for all of his efforts in securing this much-needed increase, which demonstrates his commitment to a properly-funded legal aid system in Alberta.”

The tariff increase is the second increase by the government since October of this year. Previously, the government used money from the federal government to top up the tariff from $92.40 to $100.

The total increase to $125 puts the tariff rate in-between the bands paid by Ontario at $109.13 to $161.05 per hour, and below B.C.’s rates which start at $162.18.

“While yesterday’s announcement is a step in the right direction, the government knows there is still much work to do,” said Arial.

“The associations look forward to continuing our discussions with the Government of Alberta and will continue to push for a fair and equitable tariff.”

More Alberta legal aid work to be done

In a joint statement provided by the province’s four criminal defence associations, they said that there was continued work to be done to ensure that low-income Albertans have access to legal aid.

The associations acknowledged the effects that the job actions have had on the justice system, and said that the actions will continue to be felt by lawyers as they “navigate an overwhelming demand for legal aid.”

Arial said that the lawyers will continue to have discussions with the government regarding equitable access to justice for low-income Albertans with the government.

“We are eager to discuss these issues with the government, because the best way to promote the efficient delivery of justice is to reduce the number of self-represented litigants and to ensure experienced and knowledgeable lawyers remain willing to take legal aid files,” Arial said.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Minister Shandro thanked legal aid lawyers for their patience and advocacy as they’ve worked through the legal aid review.

“Our commitment to review all aspects of legal aid funding remains in place and will be completed in the new year,” Shandro said.

“I also want to commend my colleagues and Premier Smith, who recognized the need for further funding for the legal aid system.”

The province said they would continue their modernization of the province’s legal aid system with additional changes coming in the spring of 2023.