Legal aid budget still up in the air

The Department of Justice has given Yukon legal aid another $235,000 to cover the bills for the last fiscal year.

The Department of Justice has given Yukon legal aid another $235,000 to cover the bills for the last fiscal year.

But there is still no news on whether the organization, which provides services for people who can’t afford a lawyer, will see any increase in its core funding for this coming fiscal year, which began April 1.

Earlier this week, Justice Minister Mike Nixon announced his department would be giving the Yukon Legal Services Society the lump sum of “one-time” funding.

It is the second lump sum given to the organization in the last five months.

A total of $435,000 in additional cash was given to the society this fiscal year. On top of this most recent money, the society received $200,000 last October.

At that time, some services had been suspended over budget concerns.

Nixon estimates legal aid will go into the new year with a surplus as a result of this latest funding.

“They’re in pretty good shape right now,” he said on Monday. “Tomorrow is April 1, a new day for the new fiscal year, and there will be cash flowing to the society tomorrow.”

Legal aid’s budget is a combination of federal and territorial money.

Under the current budget, $864,000 of legal aid’s $1.639 million in core funding comes from the federal government.

But lawyers with legal aid have been lobbying the government for more core funding.

They say it is difficult to plan a year’s budget when they are dependant on top-ups every year.

Legal aid was provided with an extra $180,000 in the 2010-11 year to cover high-cost cases before the courts. A year later the government gave another $235,000 in one-time funding to cover more cases.

Last October, Nixon ordered his department to review legal aid’s budgetary needs.

He says no formal decision has been made yet as to whether there will be an increase in core funding.

In the budget made public this month, legal aid’s funding stayed nearly the same as the year before.

A revised budget for legal aid is still making its way through the appropriate channels, said Nixon.

“The analysis between the Department of Justice and the legal aid society was done in early January,” he said.

“Then the Department of Justice needs to sit down and go over that analysis with the Management Board Secretariat before bringing the final options to the management board for a decision to be made.”

Nixon said the process takes time.

“These are important issues when we’re talking about access to justice for Yukoners and they’re ones that we take seriously. So if the department, legal aid society and management board require additional time to bring forward a comprehensive analysis for government to make a decision, I’m happy with that.”

Nixon said an announcement is expected in the near future.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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