Saskatchewan NDP justice critic Nicole Sarauer was in Saskatoon Monday to call attention to cuts at the city’s Legal Aid office.
Saskatoon Legal Aid is set to lose six support staff, with three vacant positions for lawyers to remain unfilled. The province plans to cover the workload by farming out more files to private lawyers.
Speaking Monday out front of Saskatoon Provincial Court, Sarauer suggested the changes would likely create more delays in the justice system.
She said she shared the concerns of many in the province’s legal community that the changes would see more people spending more time on remand waiting for their matters to be dealt with.
“Leaving our jails even more overcrowded and slowing down our justice system as a whole, which ends up costing us more in the long run,” she said.
Sarauer noted private lawyers have long handled some files for Legal Aid, but said there probably weren’t enough of them to pick up the workload left by not filling full-time positions for Legal Aid lawyers.
“This is in no way disparaging the hard work that the private lawyers do — but even those private lawyers will talk about the importance of a fully funded fully supported legal aid system,” she said.
While the bulk of Saskatchewan Legal Aid’s work centres around criminal law, Sarauer said chronic underfunding was also affecting the family law side of the operation.
She said currently, those who qualify can only have a limited amount of family law services dealt with by Legal Aid. For instance, she noted Legal Aid won’t handle property division matters, leaving clients to find a lawyer or represent themselves.
“If Legal Aid was properly funded, you would assume that Legal Aid would then have enough staff to be able to help those who qualify for Legal Aid throughought their entire family law matter, both property division and custody, and divorce,” she said.
Sarauer worked as a lawyer before being elected as the MLA for Regina-Douglas Park in 2016.