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Legal Aid to cast a wider net for eligibility

Posted on March 21, 2024 by Taber Times

By Cal Braid
Taber Times
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The financial eligibility guidelines for legal aid are widening so that more Albertans can qualify for legal aid and get the support they need. 

Legal Aid Alberta serves the justice system, providing affordable services in family law, family violence matters, child welfare, immigration, as well as youth and adult criminal defence for lower-income Albertans. On Feb. 14, the province’s ministry of justice announced an increase in the qualifying income threshold. The ceiling for financial eligibility is rising from $24,456 (gross) per year to $30,000 (gross) per year. Any individual making $30,000 (gross) per year or less could become eligible to receive representation through legal aid. The new eligibility guidelines take effect April 1.

In 2022-23, Legal Aid Alberta served 35,449 clients. In a statement, Mickey Amery, minister of justice and attorney general, said, “Legal aid helps people in some of the most trying periods of their lives. Whether it’s a parent fighting for child support or a survivor of domestic violence fleeing an abusive partner, fairness before the courts shouldn’t depend on the size of a person’s bank account. Increasing the financial eligibility guidelines will allow more Albertans to qualify for legal aid and get the help they need when they need it.”

Gianpaolo Panusa, president and CEO of Legal Aid Alberta said, “Increasing access to our services means more Albertans will be able to get the help they need to deal with the complexities of the legal system. It is an important step for improving access to justice for Albertans living paycheque to paycheque.”

In October 2022, after a ‘modernization review’ of the legal aid system, the justice ministry approved an in-year increase within the existing budget envelope. Federal funding was used to assist the move. The hourly tariff rate of $92.40 for roster lawyers was increased to $100 per hour, making Alberta’s hourly tariff rate the fourth highest among provinces. Then in December of that year, Alberta’s government approved a further 25 per cent increase to the tariff rate and block billing for legal aid lawyers. On Jan. 1, 2023, the rate jumped from $100 per hour to $125 per hour.

Given the disparity between wage growth and inflation and the rate increase that lawyers can now use when billing their clients, it’s a necessary move by the province and Legal Aid. It helps to bridge the gap for those who might freefall without a lifeline into the court system.

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