Al­berta jus­tice im­proves with boost to le­gal aid

OUR ED­I­TO­RIAL: WHAT WE THINK

Lethbridge Herald - - READER’S FORUM -

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.

Com­ment on this ed­i­to­rial on­line at www.leth­bridge­herald.com/ opin­ions/.

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