B.C. legal aid lawyers say province must boost funding or they’ll strike

Representatives will ask members to vote in favour of withdrawing services starting on April 1

A group representing British Columbia’s legal aid lawyers says if the provincial government does not boost funding, it will ask its members to vote in favour of withdrawing their services starting on April 1.

The Association of Legal Aid Lawyers said Monday that per capita funding has shrunk by 60 per cent since 1992 and B.C. ranks 10th out of 12 provinces and territories in per capita funding.

READ MORE: B.C. gets $5.3 million to work against gangs and guns

Director Richard Fowler said the provincial government must restore per capita funding to 1992 levels, adjusted for inflation. Legal aid lawyers have only had one pay raise in 28 years and their numbers have dropped to 1,000 from 1,500 in 1991, he added.

“These cuts and consistent underfunding for decades have had a disastrous effect on the legal aid system while funding for prosecution services and the courts has increased,” he said in a news release. “There currently is a huge decline in lawyers taking on cases. They just can’t afford to do it.”

Fowler said if the government doesn’t announce funding increases by March 13, the group will ask its 514 members to vote for the job action.

The Ministry of the Attorney General did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, it released a report on legal aid services shortly after the association made its announcement.

The report by lawyer Jamie Maclaren follows an external review and public consultations with legal aid users that was conducted in the fall, the ministry said.

It makes 25 recommendations including launching an online portal to accept legal aid applications and to help with clients’ legal problems.

The report calls for representatives from the provincial government, the Law Society of B.C. and frontline community service organizations to be appointed to the Legal Services Society board, which oversees legal aid in B.C.

It also recommends broadening the scope of Indigenous legal aid services and creating legal clinics for child protection and refugee cases. And it wants the auditor general to perform a value-for-money audit of Legal Services Society operations.

“Legal aid is not broken in B.C. It has simply lost its way. Years of underfunding and shifting political priorities have taken their toll on the range and quality of legal aid services, and especially on the people who need them,” Maclaren writes.

“Still, the will exists in B.C. to make legal aid more accessible and effective for all its many users.”

The ministry said it would carefully review the report and determine next steps.

Fowler said the reduction in funding since 1991 means only a small number of people qualify for legal aid.

Legal aid for family law is now only available if there’s a threat of violence or if the government is trying to permanently remove a child from their family, and one-person household with an income of more than $1,580 a month is ineligible for a legal aid lawyer in a criminal or family matter, he said.

“This has resulted in courtrooms filled with single mothers without lawyers struggling to deal with child custody matters,” he said.

He said individuals and businesses who pay for legal services in B.C. pay a seven per cent tax on those services. The money raised by the tax is enough to fund a “fair and functioning” legal aid system, Fowler said, but the government does not use the money to fund legal aid.

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

South Okanagan-Kootenay MP calls federal budget ‘not bold enough’

Richard Cannings, MP for South OK and Kootenay communities says budget missed the mark

Parmedics union raises alarm over spike in out-of-service ambulances

Staffing shortages affecting service levels in Kootenays

Update: Car located in Pend d’Oreille River, teenagers remain missing

A fundraiser has been set up at Kootenay Savings in Fruitvale to help support the family

Spring has sprung in the Kootenays

Showers and temperatures near the seasonal norm of 10 C are expected by Sunday

Two missing in Pend d’Oreille crash

A 15-year-old male and 18-year-old female both from Fruitvale are missing and presumed deceased

Five highlights in the 2019 federal budget

Latest budget includes a sprinkling of money for voters across a wide spectrum

Dutch police question new suspect in deadly tram shooting

Police are looking for additional suspects in the shooting

Starbucks to test recyclable cups, redesign stores in B.C., U.S. cities

The company also said it plans to redesign its stores as it adapts to increasing mobile pick-up and delivery orders

In pre-election budget, Liberals boost infrastructure cash to cities, broadband

The budget document says the Liberals have approved more than 33,000 projects, worth about $19.9 billion in federal financing

‘That’s a load of crap’: Dog poop conspiracy spreads in White Rock

Allegation picked up steam through a Facebook page run by a city councillor

Facebook to overhaul ad targeting to prevent discrimination

The company is also paying about $5 million to cover plaintiffs’ legal fees and other costs

B.C. mosque part of open-house effort launched in wake of New Zealand shootings

The ‘Visit a Mosque’ campaign aims to combat Islamophobia

Explosives unit brought in after suspicious boxes left at B.C. RCMP detachment

Nanaimo RCMP issues all clear after packages were found on lawn earlier in the day

2019 BUDGET: As deficit grows, feds spend on job retraining, home incentives

Stronger economy last year delivered unexpected revenue bump of an extra $27.8 billion over six years

Most Read