Legal Aid Eligibility and Coverage in Canada

Inventory of Legal Aid Plans in Canada

Inventory of Legal Aid Plans in Canada (continued)


Alberta has no formal legal aid act. In 1970, an agreement was reached between the Law Society of Alberta and the provincial government, whereby the Law Society would provide services to eligible applicants. In 1973, the Legal Aid Society was incorporated to provide legal assistance to individuals who were in need, pursuant to the agreement between the province and the Law Society. In 2002, a new governance agreement was signed by the Legal Aid Society, the Law Society and the provincial government.

Legal aid services in Alberta are provided mainly by the private bar, using the judicare model of service delivery. Staff lawyers provide services in youth criminal cases in Edmonton and Calgary, as well as duty counsel services in those cities. There are also pilot projects underway involving the hiring and use of staff lawyers for civil cases and duty counsel services for family law matters.

Financial Eligibility

Financial eligibility criteria are determined by gross income together with an appraisal of accumulated assets. A person's gross income is compared to a fixed scale of financial guidelines, which take family size into account. There are two ranges for financial eligibility: a monthly/ yearly income range and a contribution range. Legal aid is not free in either instance. The Society often exercises discretion in favour of applicants whose income and/or assets are slightly over the guidelines, if the applicants are unable to retain counsel privately. These guidelines are not cut-offs, and discretion can be used in applying them.

Income Guidelines
Family size Gross Income
Monthly eligibility Range ($) Monthly -contribution Range ($) Yearly income eligibility Range ($) Yearly income -contribution Range ($)
1 0 - 1,158 1,158 - 1,792 0 - 13,900 13,900- 21,500
2 0 - 1,400 1,400 - 2,275 0 - 16,800 16,800- 27,300
3 0 - 1,883 1,883 - 2,450 0 - 22,600 22,600- 29,400
4 0 - 2,100 2,100 - 2,717 0 - 25,200 25,200- 32,600
5 0 - 2,408 2,408 - 2,867 0 - 28,900 28,900- 34,400
6 0 - 2,625 2,625 - 3,200 0 - 31,500 31,500- 38,400
7 0 - 2,892 2,892 - 3,500 0 - 34,700 34,700- 42,000

Source: Legal Services Society of Alberta. Personal communication with Pat Bard. November 14, 2001.

Expanded Eligibility through Contributions

Applicants who are on the borderline of financial eligibility may be provided coverage if they contribute to their legal aid costs. This means that a client would be required to make monthly payments as a condition of receiving legal aid. The amount of the contribution varies and is assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Income Definition

The Legal Aid Society of Alberta uses gross family income in its assessments. Gross family income means all monies received by the family before deductions.

Family Definition

The criteria refer to family size, and a family consists of the applicant, spouse and any dependents. It would also include common-law partners.

Assets Test

There are no set guidelines for assets. If the applicants can liquidate their assets, they will be asked to do so. But, such requests must be reasonable and are determined with each case. An applicant's liabilities are also taken into account.

If the applicant owns real property that can be mortgaged to another party (other than legal aid), or if the property is in addition to the applicant's homestead and therefore can be sold to pay for the cost of legal fees, the applicant will not be provided with legal aid. If necessary and applicable, the Legal Aid Society can obtain a mortgage on an applicant's property.

Client Contributions

Legal aid in Alberta is not free. When clients can contribute to their legal costs, they will be asked to do so.

Substantive Coverage

Coverage is available for people charged with a federal indictable offence and who are financially eligible for legal aid. Summary conviction offences are covered only if, in the opinion of the Legal Aid Society, there is a likelihood of imprisonment or loss of the means to earn a livelihood upon conviction. The Society has the discretion to grant coverage where special circumstances warrant the provision of legal aid.

Criminal Appeals

In order for legal aid coverage to be granted in criminal appeals, the rules require that there be merit to an accused's appeal against a sentence or a conviction. Decisions are made by the Northern/Southern Director or are referred to a Regional Committee. Coverage is also granted to respond to Crown appeals on indictable matters. Coverage for Crown appeals on summary matters is not usually provided unless the original matter was 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.

Duty Counsel

The Society operates a criminal duty counsel program at courts in all the major centres and in youth court. Lawyers conduct interviews with accused persons who are in custody in remand centres or in police cells before the person's first court appearance, and time permitting, with persons not in custody prior to their appearance in court.

In March 1990, in response to the Brydges decision, the Society drew up a list of lawyers who could be contacted 24-hours a day. The roster is distributed to police and the RCMP.

Coverage and Eligibility Reviews

An applicant for legal aid services has 30 days from the date of notification to appeal a staff or Appeals Committee decision pertaining to eligibility or coverage. If the appeal is refused, they can again appeal to the Board [10]. The Board has established appeals committees that consider all such appeals. There are two sections of the Board's Appeals Committee: the northern section in Edmonton and the southern section in Calgary. Decisions of the Board are final.

Administration Fee

A $10 application fee which had been charged to adults applying for legal aid services was eliminated effective April 2000.

Legal Aid Society of Alberta. Annual Reports 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000. Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. Legal Aid in Canada: Description of Operations. Ottawa: Statistics Canada, March 1999. Cat. No. 85-217-XIB. Personal communication with Pat Baird, Legal Aid Society of Alberta.

[10] The Legal Aid Society is managed by a Board of Directors which reports to both the Law Society and the Attorney General of Alberta.