Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia

Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia

November 28, 2011 17:41 ET

BC Lawyers Set to Rally Simultaneously in Several Locations

A Severe Lack of Legal-Aid Funding Continues to Harm Citizens and the Entire Justice System

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwire - Nov. 28, 2011) - Lawyers will gather in four locations at 1:00 pm on Wednesday, November 30, to rally for restored funding to British Columbia's legal-aid system. The rallies are happening one month ahead of service withdrawals by legal counsel in various locations throughout the province, which take effect at the start of January and proceed as an escalating series.

RALLY LOCATIONS (outside, in front of 4 courthouses):

  • Vancouver, 222 Main Street
  • Victoria, 850 Burdett Avenue
  • Kamloops, 455 Columbia Street
  • Penticton, 100 Main Street

SPEAKING NOTE: Lawyers will deliver a brief speech at each rally location (1:00 pm). Stephanie Vyas and Phil Rankin, two key organizers of this battle for legal aid, will speak at the Vancouver location. Mr. Phil Rankin took part in protests over legal-aid shortages 20 years ago, alongside his father, the late legendary lawyer (and Vancouver city councillor) Harry Rankin QC, one of the founders of legal aid in British Columbia.

"This crisis continues to hurt citizens on a daily basis, particularly the people most in need of help from the legal profession," said Azool Jaffer-Jeraj, president of the Trial Lawyers Association of BC (TLABC). "It is society's everyday people who need assistance to resolve their problems, whether in family law disputes, criminal cases or immigration matters. These days, fewer services are covered, and the ongoing shortage of funds continues to plague the entire justice system."

Cuts and underfunding have been the norm for the past 20 years. This week, lawyers are gathering to say: No more neglect for people in need. No more cuts. No more funding shortages. Lawyers are calling on the BC Government to restore legal-aid funding, which is administered by the province's Legal Services Society and has endured $50 million in cuts from where it was 20 years ago, when cuts began to take hold. Ironically, the BC Government continues to take in roughly twice that amount annually, $100 million or more, through its provincial tax on legal fees. The money is not directed to legal aid, despite the fact a need for legal-aid funding was the reason the tax was created.

Today's reality is that far too many people do not receive legal assistance, regardless of how badly they need it. Legal aid has become harder for citizens to obtain. Fewer services are covered because there is less money in the system. Consequently, too many citizens are left on their own with legal issues. They are forced to fend for themselves in court, simply because they cannot afford a lawyer. The lack of representation for individuals causes a dramatic slow-down effect on the entire system of justice. This causes cases to take longer, and it makes everything cost more, both in social costs and the direct financial impact of a bogged-down system.

AHEAD IN 2012: At the start of January, lawyers who work as duty counsel begin an escalating series of service refusals. Duty counsel are lawyers on the front lines. They are called upon to represent people soon after an arrest, often people taken into custody overnight, who cannot afford a lawyer. Duty counsel have a very important role in the system. Their decision to withdrawal services was made due to the lack of options left for them and the people of the province. It is a frustrating and desperate situation for citizens and for people working within the system's severe limitations. Lawyers working within the system are the ones who are fully aware of the widespread problems created by the critical shortage of funding. It is as volunteers that lawyers are taking part in this Battle for Legal Aid.

Withdrawals will be in effect across the province for the first week of January, the first two weeks of February, the first three weeks of March and the entire month of April.

RECENT BACKGROUND: In 2002, the BC Government reduced the budget of the Legal Services Society (LSS) by nearly 40% over a three-year period. Then, 45 of the society's branch offices closed. Seven regional offices were supposed to handle the service needs. They were not able to do so. Services for poverty law and most family law matters were eliminated. Further cuts to LSS were made in 2009 and the society was compelled to re-evaluate its priorities. This narrowed the scope of legal aid, yet again. The LawLINE was eliminated, as was coverage for some criminal offences. Five regional offices closed. By 2010, the number of regional centres was down to just two facilities. Last year, a Public Commission on Legal Aid was conducted. Its commissioner, Leonard Doust QC, indicated the following in his report: BC is seriously lagging behind other jurisdictions. As Mr. Doust asserted: "We can no longer avoid the fact that we are failing the most disadvantaged members of our community."

Even today's terribly inadequate level of funding is unstable. This situation could get even worse for people. Consequently, the plight of the system requires the BC Government's immediate attention.

Contact Information

  • Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia
    Bentley Doyle
    604-682-5343 / 1-888-558-5222
    bentley@tlabc.org