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Prosecutors question impact of UCP plan to double articling program


Calgary courthouse in downtown Calgary, Alberta, on Sept. 2, 2010. MIKE DREW/CALGARY SUN/QMI AGENCY MIKE DREW / MIKE DREW/CALGARY SUN/QMI AGENCY


A day after the province announced the doubling of its articling program for Crown prosecutors, the association overseeing them questioned the value of the plan.


Damian Rogers, president of the Alberta Crown Attorneys’ Association, said while the association is pleased to hear of the move, it likely won’t benefit the Crown until at least 2021.


“(This) does not address the immediate needs of the service,” Rogers said in a statement, adding the province may find hiring difficult as the strongest law students graduating in 2020 have already accepted articling positions. “Most employers of articling students, including the Province, completed their recruitment for the 2020-2021 articling year during the summer of 2019.”


Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer announced the plan to bring in eight more articling students next summer, followed by another four in 2021. The move, he said, was done to increase the efficiency of the court system and in hopes of having these students help tackle backlogs of criminal cases.


“We want to make sure the justice system meets the priorities of Albertans and, right now, we want to make sure that law students who are trained here have the opportunity to stay in Alberta,” Schweitzer told Postmedia on Sunday. “We want to make sure that we can hire Albertans to work here . . . especially in rural Alberta.


“We need to get more lawyers into the system, more lawyers to fill the 25 unfilled positions that we have right now, and get those 50 new prosecutors hired at the fastest possible opportunity.”


Alberta Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Doug Schweitzer in a Postmedia file photo.JIMWELLS/POSTMEDIA


The overall move, Rogers said, would have little effect on prosecutor caseloads until the summer of 2021 when these students can be hired as Crown prosecutors.


“As the Minister has noted, there are about 25 vacant Crown Prosecutor positions in the Province of Alberta, which he has said the government wishes to fill by the end of the 2019-2020 fiscal year,” he added. “Over the following three fiscal years, the Government has committed to hiring an additional 50 Crown Prosecutors.


“The Alberta Crown Attorneys’ Association believes that the Government will not meet its hiring commitment unless it addresses pay inequities among prosecutors and ends the freeze on merit-based increments, which has resulted in many prosecutors’ salaries becoming uncompetitive with other employment opportunities.”


According to the Law Society of Alberta, once registered as a student-at-law, articling students are able to provide legal services the same as a lawyer can, as long as they are acting under the supervision of another lawyer.


Rogers said for certain appearances, including trials and guilty pleas on indictable offences, the supervising lawyer, who must have been practicing for four years continuously, must be present in the same room.


“Articling students aren’t interchangeable with Crown Prosecutors,” said Rogers. “They are a lot of work for the lawyers who supervise them and endeavour to provide a rich educational experience. The payback from that comes in future years once they are called to the Bar and begin practice as lawyers with our organization.”


A request for comment from Schweitzer was not given by Tuesday evening, but the province provided a statement from Eric Tolppanen, assistant deputy minister of the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service.


“We welcome the expansion of our articling program and we are confident we will receive a good response to our upcoming competition for additional articling students for 2020,” Tolppanen said in the statement. “The ACPS intends to invite applications from across Canada and we anticipate talented candidates will apply, particularly from already-graduated law students and those in their third year who have not yet found articles.


“We are also considering steps to attract law students graduating from universities outside of Canada. The ACPS has high standards for our articling students; those will be maintained and we are confident this will be to the long-term benefit of ACPS and to Albertans.”