The first question in criminal matters is whether the charge is an indictable or a summary conviction matter. Coverage is available for financially eligible applicants charged with an offence proceeding by way of indictment. Summary conviction offences are covered where, in the opinion of the Legal Aid Society, there is likelihood of imprisonment or loss of the means to earn a livelihood upon conviction. The Society also has discretion to grant coverage where special circumstances warrant the provision of legal aid.
In criminal appeals, the Rules require that there be merit to an accused’s appeal against sentence and/or conviction for coverage to be granted. Decisions are made by the Northern/Southern Director or referred to a Regional Committee. Coverage is available to respond to Crown appeals on indictable matters. Coverage for Crown appeals on summary matters is not usually provided unless the original matter is one for which coverage would have been granted or the Crown is likely to be seeking a sentence of imprisonment. Decisions regarding coverage for appeals to the Supreme Court of Canada are within the sole jurisdiction of the Northern and Southern Appeals Committees.
Young Offenders Coverage
The Young Offenders Act guarantees a youth’s right to counsel. Of the certificates issued for the period ending March 31, 2002, 20%, or 7,122 were for charges under the Young Offenders Act. See page 24 for a breakdown of cases completed under the Young Offenders Act.
The gross income of the young person and that of his parents (or guardians) will be considered to determine financial eligibility. If a young person is found financially ineligible for Legal Aid, but he desires counsel and is unable to retain one, the Court Ordered Counsel Program comes into effect by virtue of an agreement between the Law Society and Alberta Justice. The Legal Aid Society administers the Court Ordered Counsel Program on behalf of Alberta Justice.
In Edmonton and Calgary, the majority of youths assisted by the Legal Aid Society, including those for whom the Court has ordered the appointment of counsel, are served by staff lawyers at specialized Youth Criminal Defence Offices. The private bar provides services in the rest of the province and in Edmonton and Calgary in cases which would involve legal conflict of interest.
Civil coverage includes matters which are not Adult Criminal or Young Offenders Act cases. Of the certificates issued for the period ending March 31, 2002, 27%, or 9,831 were for civil cases. See page 22 for a breakdown of civil cases completed.
The Legal Aid Rules provide that a financially eligible applicant may be granted legal aid in a civil matter where that matter is subject to the jurisdiction of the courts, and has merit or a likelihood of success, or both. The case must also be one which a reasonable person of modest means would commence or defend and the circumstances at the time of application must warrant coverage. The legal costs of commencing or defending the action must be reasonable when compared with the relief sought. A legal opinion may be obtained to assist in determining merit or likelihood of success as well as the other requirements for coverage. As with criminal appeals, civil appeals must have merit for coverage to be granted. Decisions are made in the same way as for criminal appeals.