Victoria lawyer John Coupar meets with a client during Pro Bono Going Public 2014 in Centennial Square on Friday. Sixteen lawyers offered free legal advice during the event.

Victoria lawyer John Coupar meets with a client during Pro Bono Going Public 2014 in Centennial Square on Friday. Sixteen lawyers offered free legal advice during the event.

Lawyers champion more access to justice system

The Pro Bono Going Public 2014 event saw 16 lawyers offer service to about 40 people

Sixteen Victoria lawyers set up shop in the middle of Centennial Square Friday as part of an outdoor legal clinic for low-income residents.

The Pro Bono Going Public 2014 is designed primarily to provide free legal services to people who need them, but also to generate awareness about pro bono programs.

“We use this to raise awareness around the access-to-justice issue and the fact that the government is seemingly unwilling to fund legal aid to the extent that it should,” said Jamie Maclaren, executive director of the Access Pro Bono Society of B.C.

He said programs centering around legal aid have been significantly reduced since 2002.

Last year, the Legal Services Society, which provides legal aid in B.C., had an operating budget of $80 million, $74.5 million in funding came from the provincial government.

Maclaren said as a result of inadequate funding, the pro bono society has been asked to fill in gaps.

More than 800 lawyers in B.C. provide free services through the pro bono society.

“It’s not something (work for free) we necessarily want to do, but we do it in any case because its the right thing to do,” Maclaren said.

“Each day, such lawyers dispel the common myth of the greedy immoral lawyer by donating several hours of their time to increase access to justice for the poor and marginalized.”

The Friday event in Victoria saw about 40 people take part in the free legal service.

Many who sought legal advice centered around family law, immigration and civil matters.

“It’s not a full service we have here today, but people can follow up for subsequent advice and sometimes we do offer follow up representation for free,” Maclaren said.

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Did you know?

The provincial government has a number of innovative services that encourage alternatives to the courts.

The Attorney-General Ministry has been working with the Legal Services Society to develop five new pilot projects, with the goal of providing legal services to low-income people.

The projects include new and expanded models for criminal and family duty counsel and an expansion of the Family LawLINE.