Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia

Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia

January 31, 2012 20:03 ET

Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia: Second Phase of Service Withdrawals Set to Take Effect Across BC

Lawyers Working as Duty Counsel Continue Their Escalating Series

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwire - Jan. 31, 2012) - The second phase of service withdrawals by lawyers who work as duty counsel in criminal cases is about to take effect throughout the province. Service withdrawals are being made to raise awareness about the need for more legal-aid funding across British Columbia, with the aim of getting the BC Government to enable more citizens to qualify for assistance and to have more services offered by the province.

The withdrawal period runs from February 1 - 14. Approximately two-thirds of BC's provincial courthouses will be impacted by a full withdrawal of duty counsel, while other courthouses will operate with limited availability. The full withdrawal involves 53 courthouses, up from 38 during the initial withdrawal phase (carried out from January 1 - 7).

"The first phase of service withdrawals went very well in terms of support," explained Trial Lawyers Association of BC president Marc Kazimirski. "The lawyers involved are headed into phase two with greater awareness already achieved for this important issue, and a strong sense of purpose remains. From the start, the focus has been about the need to help more people resolve their legal problems - whether in family law, criminal cases or immigration matters."

In advance of the first withdrawal period, hundreds of lawyers took part in rallies held simultaneously at the end of November, in multiple locations. Support continues to build within the legal profession, and a positive dialogue has been initiated with the BC Attorney General's Ministry.

A provincial tax on legal fees continues to generate $140 million each year (since taking effect in the early 1990s), yet less than half of that sum is put into BC's annual budget for legal aid. Meanwhile, BC spends far less per capita on legal aid than the national average.

Many people do not receive legal assistance, regardless of how badly they need it, because legal aid has become harder for citizens to obtain. Fewer services are covered as there is less money in the system than there was in 2002, when significant cuts took hold. Some citizens are forced to fend for themselves, simply because they cannot afford a lawyer. The lack of representation causes a serious slow-down effect on the administration of justice, causing matters to take longer.

Lawyers who work as duty counsel have a very important role on the front lines. In criminal cases, they are called upon to represent people soon after an arrest. As legal professionals working within the system, they are the ones who are fully aware of the widespread problems created by a significant shortage of funding. It is as volunteers that lawyers are taking part in this Battle for Legal Aid.

The third phase of withdrawals will run from March 1 - 21. The fourth and final scheduled phase will be a withdrawal of services for the entire month of April.

Last March, the final report from a province-wide Public Commission on Legal Aid was released. Its commissioner, Leonard Doust QC, indicated that BC is seriously lagging behind other jurisdictions. He stated: "We can no longer avoid the fact that we are failing the most disadvantaged members of our community."

Contact Information

  • Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia
    Bentley Doyle
    604-682-5343 or 1-888-558-5222