Legal Brief for January, 2017

My Hopes For The Legal World In 2017

January 1st is a time when many of us make personal resolutions for the New Year.  And of course February 1st is the month by which most of us have usually started failing to keep those resolutions.  And they are for the most part a distant memory by March 1st.  But, there always seems to be some value in going through the process, and sometimes we actually do end up making changes in our habits and lifestyles that stick with us.

If our Alberta legal system was a person, what would its list of resolutions for 2017 look like?  Here is my take on what I think should be happening:

  1. Appoint more Judges.  As you may have read in the media over the last few months, Alberta is short 11 judges for the Court of Queen's Bench from what its population should entitle it to compared with other provinces.  This shortfall is causing horrendous delays in cases coming to trial, both in criminal matters and civil disputes.  This has been a chronic problem for many years now, and it is a mystery as to why it has been allowed to happen.  As the federal government is the level of government which appoints Queen's Bench judges and pays their salaries, perhaps a letter to your friendly MP and to the federal Minister of Justice, Jody Wilson-Raybould would be helpful.
  2. Appoint more Court staff.  This one is on the Alberta government.  Both the Provincial Court and Court of Queen's Bench levels are suffering from under staffing of Court Clerks and other administrative positions.  This is creating daily delays and backlogs in getting questions answered and documents processed and filed.  Again, a letter to your local MLA and the provincial Minister of Justice, Kathleen Ganley might be in order.
  3. Consistent funding for the Legal Aid system.  This one is a joint responsibility of the federal and the Alberta governments.  The system has been underfunded for several years (due in large part because the federal contribution has been frozen for the last decade), which has resulted in constant cutbacks in service.  As Legal Aid is designed to assist low income individuals with obtaining legal representation, the situation in effect has resulted in the cutting of an important social program.  People are pleading guilty to crimes just to "get it over with" rather than take their cases to trial, and matrimonial cases are becoming back logged as more people become what are known as "self represented litigants".
  4. Simplify and streamline the process of the issuance of grants of probate for estates by the Court of Queen's Bench.  It currently takes roughly three months for the Edmonton office of the Court to process and issue a grant of probate on a standard file, due to the large population base of the Edmonton judicial district.  If you live in Wetaskiwn however, you will likely be able to have your probate application processed and completed in as little as two weeks.  The Court administration office is looking at trying to create a province wide pool of Court staff to even out the disparity in these times.  Let's hope we see some progress on this in 2017, as the delays in Edmonton (and Calgary) create many headaches for executors trying to administer the estates they are responsible for.

Best wishes for 2017, and good luck with your resolutions!

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