The staff in Legal Aid offices around the province are pleased last months provincial budget contained an eight-per-cent increase for the commission, stating its good first step.
But the 12- in-scope employees, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, stress much more money is needed to address the chronic under-funding problem.
“The increase funding will enable the Legal Aid Commission to hire a few more lawyers and support staff. However, people will still have long waits for legal services,” explains local union president Deb Hopkins.
Hopkins, a legal aid lawyer in the Saskatoon office, says the Commission’s mandate has been severely restricted in recent years due to the lack of adequate funding. “We’re only allowed to act in family law cases involving custody, child access and divorce, or in situations where people face possible jail sentences. That’s the entire scope of our mandate,” she states. “Last month’s budget doesn’t change that.”
The CUPE Local 1949 President says lawyers, para legals and other support staff in the legal aid offices continue to experience crushing workloads, due to growing demand for services. The also are poorly paid in comparison to lawyers and other staff in the Justice Department.
“Obviously, we’re not in this line of work because of the good wages or attractive office environment,” says Ms. Hopkins dryly. “We’re here because we’re committed to assisting poor people involved in the justice system.
Ms. Hopkins says while the legal aid staff appreciates the budget increase, the government needs to provide much more money for legal aid services in the province.
For more information call Deb Hopkins at 933-7834