Alberta justice improves with boost to legal aid
OUR EDITORIAL: WHAT WE THINK
ustice delayed is justice denied,” we’re told.
So for Albertans who can’t afford a lawyer, there’s no justice at all.
That’s why it’s crucial that Albertans have access to a legal aid service to help them through some of life’s biggest challenges.
That access has been difficult in recent years, as the population has grown faster than government support for the program. But now the provincial government has announced a four-year, $70-million increase — allowing Legal Aid Alberta to streamline services and make them more readily available.
It’s probably in reports from provincial court proceedings that most Albertans hear about the role our legal aid service plays in assisting people with no previous courtroom experience, and reducing costly court delays. And that can reduce the ongoing trauma faced by victims of crime, as well as those who have been charged — and who may or may not be found guilty of the charges laid.
But legal can also be a lifeline, maybe even a life saver, in family court matters. When there’s a woman trying to flee from a violent domestic partner, or a parent trying to protect a child who’s been the victim of neglect or abuse, it’s vital that a person with legal training can properly present that information to a judge.
For better or for worse, those family conflicts and their remedies represented more than one-third of all cases handled by Alberta’s legal aid personnel last year.
The new funding, announced just this week, is part of a three-way agreement negotiated by the Law Society of Alberta, Alberta Legal Aid and the province’s Ministry of Justice.
“The Law Society is in a unique position to see how many struggle to find legal help,” says Don Cranston, its president — and that’s why the new agreement is so important.
“We are proud of the innovative framework that will help Legal Aid deliver services in a way that improves the protection and representation of vulnerable and disadvantaged Albertans,” he says.
Adds Dan Chivers, president of the province’s Criminal Trial Lawyers Association, “The government of Alberta has listened to and addressed the concerns of crucial stakeholders in the legal aid system. “Many Albertans will benefit . . .” It’s like fire insurance. Few of us expect we’ll ever need help from the legal aid system.
But in a democracy, sound laws and an independent court system are important safeguards. We should try to ensure that all citizens have access to those protections.
That’s why this week’s agreement, promising better access for all, is a commendable step forward.
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