Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan and MLA David Swann demand more action on Legal Aid, court wait times

Alberta Liberals David Khan and David Swann have released the following statement in response to today’s announcement from Alberta Justice:

Alberta’s Justice Minister announced the government is introducing more duty counsel services at first appearance bail hearings to reduce court backlogs.

Both Khan and Swann say this will help as a limited step forward – but ultimately this is a grossly inadequate solution.

“We are supportive of the move but it does not address the real issues. The NDP Government lacks a comprehensive strategy to address systemic problems with court wait times.”

Khan stated, “This only addresses first appearances. There is too much self-representation in the courts which slows down trials, clogs up the system and denies disadvantaged Albertans a fair and equitable hearing.

“The Government should be heeding the advice of Criminal Defence Lawyer Association (CDLA) and providing an immediate 40% funding increase for Legal Aid as part of a 65% increase over the next four years. We also need to see income thresholds for support raised. Too many Albertans who need this service aren’t even eligible to receive it.

“The Government also needs to be implementing other strategies for reducing court wait times, such as reviewing the efficiency of the “file ownership” system for Crown Prosecutors, implementing a universal province-wide trial scheduling system, enforcing timely release of disclosure, appointing and funding more provincial court justices, and pressuring the federal Government to fill Superior Court Judge vacancies.”

Swann added to Khan’s remarks “This Minister is not listening to all sides on this issue. I am hearing from defence lawyers in Alberta that they are not being properly consulted. Justice is about balance and that means bringing all stakeholders to the table to find solutions to these problems.

“The Minister also needs to get serious about addressing the backlogs and systemic issues at the Calgary Medical Examiner office which have led to lengthy turnaround times for death investigations.”