Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia

Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia

July 07, 2014 09:15 ET

REMINDER/Legal Aid Lawyers Embark on a Series of Service Withdrawals

Month of Protest in Effect July 5, Demonstration Set for July 7 in Vancouver

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwired - July 7, 2014) - July marks the start of work withdrawals in what is projected to be a lengthy form of protest by lawyers who usually provide services to citizens in need of legal aid. Instead, they are compelled to undertake another awareness campaign due to working in a system that has been severely underfunded by the BC Government for decades, despite the fact many citizens need legal assistance - but are instead forced to represent themselves in legal matters.

The cash-strapped Legal Services Society of BC continues to operate within a budget so restricted that it is forced to turn down 2 out of every 3 people who apply for legal aid.

The first withdrawal period runs for more than a month, from July 5 - August 8, 2014. Additional withdrawal periods will commence in the fall, beginning in early October, and they will continue indefinitely with a full week of withdrawals taking effect at the start of each month, moving into and throughout 2015, and beyond (if necessary).

"The lawyers involved are withdrawing services now with the hope of causing great improvements to be made in the future for citizens in need of legal assistance," said Chris Johnson, one of three co-chairs of the Trial Lawyers Association of BC's Legal Aid Action Committee. "Things have been very bad for many years, and it's only gotten worse over time. Far too many citizens need help, yet two-thirds of them are denied legal aid when they apply for assistance. It's that bad. The BC Government is forcing them to represent themselves, because it's too hard to qualify for legal aid and not enough services are covered."

To mark the start of the legal-aid withdrawals, lawyers will "rally in robes" in Vancouver on July 7 at 12:30 pm. A brief statement will be made while they are gathered outside of the courthouse entrance.

EVENT: Rally in Robes
DATE & TIME: Monday, July 7 at 12:30 pm
LOCATION: Vancouver - The Provincial Court of BC
ADDRESS: 222 Main Street, Vancouver

Things are particularly bad with regard to criminal matters and family law. People in need of assistance in family law, for example, are hit very hard, with 9 of 10 citizens being left to fend for themselves, despite what are often severely difficult and distressing circumstances.

Lawyers from the Trial Lawyers Association of BC's Legal Aid Action Committee (LAAC) have been volunteering their time for years to help raise awareness about the need for far greater funding. Support for their cause is gaining ground across the province, as it has done with each protest effort. Previous awareness campaigns saw duty counsel (lawyers who provide services on the front lines at courthouses throughout BC) conduct an escalating series of withdrawals two years ago, and that was followed by widespread refusals to accept certain categories of cases. Lawyers lifted their service withdrawals following last year's provincial election, but the ongoing lack of legal aid in BC's severely underfunded system has caused lawyers to renew their protest efforts, this time in the form of outright work withdrawals over certain periods.

"Citizens should not be standing alone when it comes to the justice system," said TLABC president Richard Parsons. "The ongoing lack of legal aid in BC leaves far too many individuals stumbling through the courts without a legal representative."

Legal counsel from across BC continue to call on the government to significantly increase the funding for legal aid, and expand upon the limited range of services available to citizens.

A provincial tax on legal services - which has been paid by citizens since the early 1990s -generates more than $144 million annually for the BC Government, yet the legal aid system lacks the level of support necessary to take help many of society's most vulnerable citizens. Too many people in need of help do not receive legal assistance. Their lack of legal representation causes a serious slow-down effect on the administration of justice, resulting in court matters taking longer and ultimately costing taxpayers more. Less than half of the tax money the BC Government grabs is directed into legal aid. Add a relatively small sum in federal and other contributions, and the Legal Services Society of BC is still operating with nowhere near the money that the tax brings in, a tax paid by citizens who have supplied the BC Government with an extra 7% on top of their personal legal bills.

More than three years have passed since the final report from a province-wide Public Commission on Legal Aid was released (March 2011). Its commissioner, Leonard Doust QC, confirmed that BC is seriously lagging behind other jurisdictions. He concluded: "We can no longer avoid the fact that we are failing the most disadvantaged members of our community."

LAAC NOTE: The Legal Aid Action Committee has members located throughout the province. The committee is co-chaired by Ms. Birgit Eder, Mr. Phil Rankin and Mr. Chris Johnson.

Contact Information