"Legal aid" is legal assistance for people who cannot afford to pay a lawyer from their own resources. In Alberta, legal aid is provided through Legal Aid Alberta. Legal Aid Alberta is independent of government, and the government has no involvement in appointing counsel in individual cases. Legal Aid Alberta does receive funding by way of an annual grant from the provincial government, through Alberta Justice and Solicitor General (JSG). In 2012-13, the JSG Ministry provided $7 million in funding, in addition to the annual grant to bolster Legal Aid Alberta's reserve fund and help it cover some higher than expected costs.
Legal Aid Alberta delivers both criminal (including young offender) and civil legal aid. Criminal legal aid is cost shared with the federal government, through the Department of Justice Canada. Other sources of funding are the Alberta Law Foundation (interest from lawyers' trust accounts) and client payment contributions (payments and partial payments).
Pursuant to the Governance Agreement between the Law Society of Alberta, Alberta Justice and Solicitor General and Legal Aid Alberta, a Board of Directors appointed by the Law Society of Alberta oversees the operations of Legal Aid Alberta.
Legal Aid Alberta makes assistance available free of charge to all people who request it in most criminal courts of first appearance (i.e. docket court). The lawyers who provide this service are known as duty counsel, and may be either staff lawyers or lawyers in private practice who are being paid for the day. There is no eligibility testing for this service. It is available to anyone requesting it, although if the court is very busy, priority is given to people in custody.
Legal Aid Alberta operates 11 Legal Service Centres across Alberta. More than just providing clients with a lawyer, Legal Aid Alberta staff are able to channel clients into the appropriate stream of legal service, ensuring that the best possible service is provided for their specific need and situation.
Based on a their legal issue and financial eligibility, clients are eligible to recieve services that include:
- Legal advice and/or brief services
- Limited scope* of full representation
*Limited scope services may include document drafting/review, negotiations, attendance at settlement meetings, coaching and research.
Legal aid in Alberta is mostly delivered by lawyers in private practice who bill Legal Aid Alberta instead of their clients. The Legal Aid Alberta tariff of fees is significantly lower than the fees that would generally be paid to a lawyer on a private retainer. In Edmonton and Calgary there are full-time staff lawyers who provide eligible applicants with legal assistance in the family law area.
Legal aid to young people charged under the Youth Criminal Justice Act is delivered in Edmonton and Calgary by staff lawyers who work directly for Legal Aid Alberta. In other parts of the province, legal aid for youths is provided by private lawyers.
I can't afford to hire a lawyer. What are my options?
Legal Aid Review
Legal aid is a critical service that helps provide access to justice for vulnerable Albertans. It is a misconception that legal aid is free. It is not free – not for the client and not for the government, and we support it with a substantial annual grant. In the 2012-2013 fiscal year, that grant was $65.8 million.
Legal Aid Alberta, in partnership with the Law Society and Alberta Justice completed a review of the legal aid program in 2009. This review examined what services legal aid should be providing and who should receive those services. It also looked at service costs, the way services should be provided, what the private bar should be paid and what other sources of revenue or support could be developed.
Legal Aid Alberta prepared a report addressing these issues and made recommendations for change to the legal aid program. The final report was submitted to the Legal Aid Alberta Board and the Minister of Justice for consideration and approval. On April 6, 2010, Legal Aid Alberta implemented a variety of changes that focus on providing a broader range of services that are cost-effective and tailored to meet client needs.
Legal Aid Pilot Projects Increase Access to Justice - Justice Minister accepts legal aid recommendations
Legal Aid Alberta Review Report Released
Legal Aid Review Report - 71 KB
Transmittal Letter - 3.12 MB