April 18, 2018 4:11 pm
Updated: April 18, 2018 7:13 pm

Albertans to have access to Legal Aid lawyers at 1st appearance bail hearings

WATCH: The Criminal Defence Lawyers Association of Alberta is pushing for a boost in funding to the legal aid program. Without it, the association says it will stop doing voluntary services lawyers say they’re doing now. Lauren Pullen reports.

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The Alberta government is making Legal Aid lawyers available at first appearance bail hearings.

It says the measure will reduce court backlogs and help Albertans understand their rights.

Currently, many people accused of crimes represent themselves during the bail process.

The duty counsel will provide advice and may also attend bail hearings and speak on behalf of the accused.

The NDP government says by reducing the number of court appearances, it will free up time and resources in the courts and remand centres.

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READ MORE: Alberta launches review of legal aid program struggling to keep up with demand

Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley says a review of Alberta’s bail system in 2016 found it’s crucial that decision-makers have the most important information in front of them.

“Making Legal Aid duty counsel available at first appearance bail hearings is a key part of that,” she said in a release Wednesday. “This initiative will help balance public safety with the need to protect the rights of individuals.”

READ MORE: Alberta defence lawyers demanding boost to ‘neglected and degraded’ Legal Aid 

Earlier this week, the president of the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association excoriated the government for its funding of Legal Aid.

In an open letter to Ganley, Ian Savage wrote that the program needs $150 million a year to operate properly, but only got $89 million in the most recent budget. He urged the province to bump up Legal Aid funding by 65 per cent over four years, starting with a 40 per cent increase this year.

READ MORE: Alberta lawyers’ group applauds new legal aid money in NDP budget, says it will address ‘serious problems’ 

He said defence lawyers would be withholding unpaid services to exert pressure on the government and highlight the true cost of the justice system.

The New Democrats have increased funding for Legal Aid by nearly 40 per cent since they took office in 2015. The province is in the midst of negotiating a new funding and governance agreement with Legal Aid Alberta and the Law Society of Alberta.

 

© 2018 The Canadian Press

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