On Thursday, the provincial government announced plans to address mounting pressures facing the province’s justice system by adding more judicial positions to the Court of Queen’s Bench and Court of Appeal and increasing legal aid funding.
In total, 10 new positions — nine on the Court of Queen’s Bench, one on the Court of Appeal — will be created through amendments to provincial legislation this fall. The increase brings the number of justices per capita in Alberta in line with that in other provinces.
“It’s clear that our justice system is under significant pressure and these steps are needed to improve access to justice for Albertans. By focusing our resources, our aim is to have more cases heard in a reasonable amount of time,” said Kathleen Ganley, minister of Justice and Solicitor General.
She added, the Alberta government has been working, and will continue to work, with the federal government to encourage them to make judicial appointments to these positions. Although provinces can increase the number of justice positions on superior courts, only the federal government has the authority to approve and appoint justices.
It was also announced on Thursday that an additional $9.4 million is being provided to Legal Aid Alberta, which administers the province’s legal aid program, to cover its operations and ensure the continuation of services for Albertans. This increase brings the total provincial funding for 2016-2017 to $77.9 million. Since May 2015, the provincial government has increased legal aid funding by 20%, officials have said.
“(The) announcement of 10 new provincial positions within the justice system acknowledges the seriousness of the inefficiencies and delays in our justice and legal system,” said Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer. “It is one of many steps needed to alleviate the strain and respond to the pressures on our local and regional judicial systems, which includes, but is not limited to a lack of court room space in Red Deer, and the ever increasing population numbers that our courtroom is required to serve.
“We respect that the federal and provincial governments are taking this issue seriously. Locally, enforcement efforts are focused on addressing serious and violent crime in our community. It is our hope that the addition of these 10 new positions will increase capacity within our local courthouse, ensuring more charges are upheld by the judicial system as this is an important part of our enforcement efforts,” she added. “The City of Red Deer continues to advocate for expanded courthouse infrastructure for Red Deer and the region.”
Wildrose Shadow Justice Minister Scott Cyr added today a lack of judges in Alberta has reached a crisis level and allowed accused murderers to walk free.
“I fully welcome any and all action to create more positions in Alberta. Even though this still falls short of what our province needs, any new appointments are long overdue,” Cyr said. “Justice officials are scrambling to manage growing caseloads and offenders are being let off due to unreasonable delays in their trials. This is a disastrous situation for victims and their families, and I’d like to see a greater sense of urgency from Minister Ganley who could have increased the number of positions in the time she’s served as minister.”