Five days after one of Alberta's top provincial court judges threatened to sideline three pending criminal cases due to “inadequate” Legal Aid funding, Alberta Justice has intervened.
“Alberta Justice and [the] Solicitor General has been in contact with Legal Aid Alberta regarding the three applications made in court last week for legal counsel,” said the ministry in a statement on Tuesday.
Assistant Chief Judge Larry Anderson had been asked to review the cases, all of which involve defendants who live under the poverty line and are receiving financial assistance from Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH).
In all three cases, Anderson ruled that unless a lawyer is provided to them within a week, their charges would be stayed.
Two days before Anderson’s deadline, Alberta Justice announced Legal Aid has been arranged for the three defendants in question.
“The ministry has already been in touch with Legal Aid to ensure representation is provided and funded, which will be in addition to Legal Aid's 2014-15 budget.”
A spokeswoman for the ministry says it will deal with any future similar orders on a case by case basis.
Officials with Legal Aid, however, say they are still concerned about the future of other cases on the docket.
“While it is of some small support to fund these three applications, there exists another 40 since February 4 and will not help us with respect to those yet to come.” said Jan Archbold in an email.
Archbold said she is also worried about what will happen if choosing which cases merit additional cash from the province falls to the ministry.
“There is a much bigger concern here, because it suggests that [Alberta Justice] will decide whose defence they will fund and whose they will not – and they are the prosecution. This erodes the defence and also the independence of Legal Aid Alberta.”
Alberta's Justice Minister Jonathan Denis has repeatedly rejected the idea of investing more provincial funds into Legal Aid. Instead, he has asked Ottawa for more money.