Yukon Legal Services can’t afford to fund or staff an upcoming murder trial and has requested help from the Justice Department.
In an unprecedented move, legal services is currently negotiating with the department because the first-degree murder trial of Norman Larue, 27, and Christina Asp, 31, threatens to drain its annual budget.
And that risks depriving other clients of legal aid.
“There has to be a fairness in what’s allocated in any given manner,” said Nils Clarke, executive director of Yukon Legal Services.
Larue and Asp are charged with killing Gordon Seybold in his Whitehorse-area home in March 2008. The 63-year-old’s house was gutted in a fire.
The two suspects were arrested in Strathmore, Alberta, last July.
Their trial is expected to be expensive and lengthy because the case will rely on the testimony of a number of undercover cops.
“There’s a lot of possible Charter arguments,” said Clarke. “There are so many police witnesses.”
Undercover evidence is problematic because it raises Charter concerns. Also, it takes longer to string together the evidence.
“It’s never occurred up here – this sort of fact-pattern is unique,” said Clarke.
Larue and Asp went Outside to find lawyers who have experience with this type of trial.
Larue found an attorney from Kamloops, BC, while Asp will be represented by a lawyer from Victoria.
“They are lawyers who have conducted similar types of trials,” said Clarke.
The final tab will likely exceed $100,000 per lawyer, he said.
That’s a major chunk of Legal Service’s $1.6-million annual budget.
“It would also take a lot of staff lawyers out of other cases in the order of months,” he said. “It would be a huge logistical problem for us.”
Legal Services hasn’t had to turn away a client because of a budget shortfall “in recent times,” said Clarke.
It’s never happened under his 10-year watch as executive director, he said.
“For whatever reason, we’ve been able to manage.”
About 60 per cent of Legal Service’s budget goes to criminal matters – approximately $960,000.
So the trial would use at least one-fifth of all the money Legal Aid spends on criminal trials in a year.
The rest of its budget goes to helping clients with family law, mental health cases, custody-inmate issues, child apprehension and refugee services, said Clarke.
Slightly more than half of the Yukon Legal Services budget is covered by Ottawa. A tiny percentage of the budget comes from contributions arranged with clients, and the rest is covered by the Yukon government.
Legal aid receives more than 1,800 applications a year, said Clarke.
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