POLITICS
03/24/2014 10:58 EDT | Updated 05/24/2014 05:59 EDT

Newfoundland gives $13.5M to legal aid, Sheriff's Office after uproar over cuts

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - The government of Newfoundland and Labrador plans to spend an extra $13.5 million over the next three years to strengthen its legal aid system and the Sheriff's Office after reviews released Monday called for more staff and funding.

The Justice Department released two reviews that gave 29 recommendations on how it can improve access to legal aid and make the Sheriff's Office a more stable and effective work environment.

The review of the Sheriff's Office, led by retired RCMP inspector Leigh DesRoches, said court security staff indicated a number of problems including low staffing levels and concerns about safety.

"They reported that they did not feel supported to do the work they had to do," the review said.

Lawyer John Roil said stress levels were high at all levels and locations of the province's Legal Aid Commission.

"High workload is causing much of this stress, especially at locations where recent staff cuts have left remaining workers with more work to do, but with no additional time to devote to it," Roil said in his review.

The reviews were launched last June following a backlash from legal experts over planned Justice Department cuts to courtroom security sheriffs and Crown attorneys. The government later backtracked on those cuts.

Justice Minister Darin King said Monday the government accepts all 29 recommendations and that over the next three years, about $7.1 million will be set aside to boost legal aid and another $6.4 million will go to the Sheriff's Office.

"We have listened to what people had to say, we gathered expert advice and we are responding accordingly," King said in a statement.

"Our ultimate goal is for a more effective and efficient organization that provides for a safe and secure environment for citizens, the judiciary and all court participants."

In the 2013-14 fiscal year, close to $13 million was set aside for legal aid and about $4.6 million was budgeted for the Sheriff's Office.