A Profile of Legal Aid Services in Family Law Matters in Canada
- 2.9 Alberta
Legal aid in Alberta is provided through the Legal Aid Society of Alberta, which has several sources of revenue. The majority of funding is provided by the Minister of Justice, Government of Alberta, with partial reimbursement from the Government of Canada. The Alberta Law Foundation also provides an annual grant to the Legal Aid Society in the amount of 25 percent of the interest earned on lawyers’ trust accounts. Contributions and recoveries from clients are also a source of revenue.
The judicare model of service delivery is predominantly used in Alberta, and a roster is maintained of lawyers willing to act for legal aid recipients. They are paid according to a tariff, which is based on a combination of block fees and hourly payment. Due to the low number of lawyers in the Red Deer region willing to accept legal aid certificates, a staff lawyer was hired in Red Deer in March 1999 to provide legal services in civil matters. A Family Law Office Pilot Project is also underway (see Section 2.9.4). Two staff lawyer positions in Edmonton and Calgary, which handled mainly civil files, were subsumed by the Family Law project.
The Provincial Office of the Legal Aid Society of Alberta is located in Edmonton, and the province is divided into Northern and Southern districts, with a total of eleven regions. Staff from the regional offices travel on circuits to some surrounding communities.
Approved applicants are expected to contribute to the cost of legal aid services by repaying funds expended on their behalf, where repayment will not cause undue hardship. No interest is charged to clients on outstanding accounts.
Applicants who are refused legal aid are notified in writing of the refusal and the reason for the refusal, and may appeal the decision to a Regional Committee. Decisions of the Regional Committee may be further appealed by the applicant to the Northern/Southern Appeals Committee, whose decision is final.
Considerations for civil coverage are outlined in the Legal Aid Rules:
1. The Legal Aid Society may provide legal aid to a resident Albertan who is a financially eligible applicant in respect of any civil matter where
- (1) the matter is subject to the jurisdiction of the courts,
- (2) a reasonable person of modest means would commence or defend the action, and
- (3) in the opinion of the Legal Aid Society
- (a) the legal cost of commencing or defending the action is reasonable when compared to the relief sought, and
- (b) the matter has merit or a likelihood of success, or both, and
- (c) where circumstances, at the time of the application, warrant coverage.
The Legal Aid Society may refuse legal aid where there is:
"(1) a reasonable payment into court, offer of judgment or offer to settle; (2) a reasonable likelihood of settlement; or (3) unreasonable failure of the client to follow the advice of the counsel appointed by the Legal Aid Society." There are also provisions for
"special disbursements only" coverage, coverage for non-resident Albertans, and coverage for appeals of court decisions.
Civil matters that are categorized as family law matters include access, child welfare, divorce, maintenance, matrimonial property, and restraining orders.
An applicant’s gross family income, together with a valuation of accumulated assets, is used to determine financial eligibility. Gross income figures are compared to a fixed scale of financial guidelines, broken down by family size. For example, for eligibility, the maximum gross family annual income for a family of one is $13,000; for a family of two, $16,800; for a family of three, $22,600; and for a family of four, $25,200. Applicants whose incomes slightly exceed the guidelines may be extended coverage on a contributing basis, meaning that the client is required to make monthly payments as a condition of receiving legal aid. A $10 application fee for adults applying for legal aid services was eliminated in April 2000.
The Legal Aid Society, the Law Society, and Alberta Justice are currently implementing a Family Law Office Pilot Project. The pilot project involves the establishment of two Family Law offices, one in Edmonton (opened July 2001) and one in Calgary (opened October 2001). The overall objective of the Family Law Office is to improve access to justice for legal aid clients in a cost-effective way. Each office will be staffed with up to 12 lawyers with a range of experience, as well as support staff and a social worker. An Assistant Senior Counsel, who will report to the project’s Senior Counsel based in Edmonton, will manage each office. It is anticipated that the Family Law offices will handle all family law matters currently dealt with by the private bar in Calgary and Edmonton on legal aid certificates, except in cases where there is a conflict because the Family Law Office is already representing one party or where there is a long-standing solicitor-client relationship. In those cases where the Family Law Office is unable to act, the party will be referred to the private bar.
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