Province doubles number of articling students working with Crown prosecutors

The province is doubling the number of law students it hires to work in the Crown prosecution service, Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer announced on Monday.

Eight additional articling students will be hired right away for a total of 16, and by 2021 the Crown Prosecution Service will have at least 20 students in its articling program, he said at an event outside the Calgary Courts Centre.

Schweitzer said the province needs to recruit 75 prosecutors to get to a full contingent of Crown lawyers, and bringing them in first as articling students is a good way to do it.

"We're taking decisive action now to help solve this problem. I come from the private sector. For a law firm in the province of Alberta with over 200 lawyers, typically they would hire 15 to 20 articling students," he said.

"The Government of Alberta was hiring eight — and we have way more lawyers than that. This is part of that solution, to make sure we have that right pipeline of lawyers coming in, so we don't get into this situation again where we have this massive deficit of lawyers."

The new articling student positions are in addition to the UCP government's commitment to hiring an extra 50 Crown prosecutors, the minister said.

Schweitzer said he wants more law school grads to consider pursuing careers as Crown prosecutors.

"It's a really good place to come and learn. You get exposed to many different things. I would really, highly encourage students to come article in the province of Alberta."

Schweitzer said the new articling students will be prioritized for placement in rural Alberta and smaller judicial districts.

Positions will be held for students from rural Alberta who wish to live there and incentives will be offered to students who wish to stay working for the Crown in rural areas, the province said in a release.

NDP justice critic Kathleen Ganley gave the UCP credit for trying to fix one problem, but she said they're giving with one hand and taking with the other.

"I actually think this is a pretty good idea, overall," she said.

"One of the most challenging things for the Government of Alberta is to retain Crown prosecutors, particularly in rural areas. So anything that can be done to improve that is good."

But Ganley said the UCP's plan to cut the budget for courtroom operations by 20 per cent will undermine any gains made on the prosecution side.

"So we see the Crown Prosecution Service budget go up, but at the same time we're seeing the budget for the courts go down," she said.