The Alberta government is hiking the amount of money it will pay for lawyers providing legal aid.
Beginning Jan. 1, the rate is to increase from $100 to $125 per hour.
Organizations representing lawyers in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer and southern Alberta launched job action on Aug. 8 and have largely refused to accept new legal aid cases since Sept. 26.
The lawyers were demanding both an increase in rates paid on legal aid cases and for eligibility requirements to be changed so that more Albertans qualify for help.
Alberta Justice Minister Tyler Shandro approved a tariff increase in October from $92.40 to $100 an hour due to a rise in federal funding. He asked the lawyers to wait for the results of a comprehensive review of the legal aid system and said the latest increase makes Alberta legal aid lawyers the fourth-highest paid in Canada.
“I want to thank all legal aid lawyers for their patience and advocacy as we have worked our way through the review. Our commitment to review all aspects of legal aid funding remains in place and will be completed in the new year,” Shandro said in a written statement.
“I also want to commend my colleagues and Premier (Danielle) Smith, who recognized the need for further funding for the legal aid system.”
The lawyer groups received little warning of Wednesday’s announcement from Alberta’s United Conservative government.
“The defence lawyers associations received 15 minutes’ notice that the government of Alberta would be issuing a press release. We did not have information as to its details until the release was made public,” said Kelsey Sitar, vice-president of the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association in Calgary.
She said members are to meet Wednesday night to discuss the changes.
“Our organizations have been putting unrelenting pressure on the government for this sort of meaningful good-faith increase to the tariff since August.”
Sitar said the groups will have more to say later this week.
The Opposition NDP justice critic said the increase is positive, but it should never have got to this point.
“The UCP refused to honour the 2018 agreement signed by our (previous) government. They claimed it wasn’t possible to increase the tariff, which led to delays and chaos in our justice system, and risked cases being thrown out,” said Irfan Sabir in a written statement.
“The tariff increase still fails to address the other issues facing legal aid, including paying arrears owed to legal aid under the 2018 agreement and revising eligibility guidelines to ensure better access to justice.”