Lawyers protesting chronic underfunding for legal aid plan to suspend that service in July.

Lawyers protesting chronic underfunding for legal aid plan to suspend that service in July.

Legal aid strike action looms again

Some but not all B.C. lawyers to withdraw aid in new bid to press government for more funding

Some B.C. lawyers are once again planning to withdraw legal aid services in a bid to force the provincial government to pour more money into the system.

Bentley Doyle, spokesman for the Trial Lawyers Association of B.C., said participating lawyers will halt work on existing legal aid cases and refuse new ones for the month of July.

Previous legal aid ‘strikes’ split the legal community and there’s no sign the tactic will be embraced by all lawyers this time either.

Doyle said 50 to 75 lawyers in Vancouver are on board, as well as a group in Kamloops and the aim is to recruit more in other areas.

“We have good support in places like Kelowna,” he said.

The plan is to continue the action in the fall with one-week-a-month stoppages starting in October. Both criminal and family law cases will be affected.

The recommendation of the TLA’s legal aid action committee comes on the heels of the provincial government’s decision to provide an extra $2 million for justice transformation pilot projects.

That boosts the budget of the Legal Services Society to $74.5 million, helping unwind some of the cuts of recent years, but the budget of the agency that provides legal aid is still down more than 20 per cent from 2001.

“It’s a drop in the bucket,” Doyle said of the extra money, which the province says will fund initiatives to more quickly resolve legal cases, such as mediation and out-of-court solutions.

The TLA continues to argue more funding should come from the seven per cent legal services tax that it says B.C. originally created to fund legal aid, although successive governments have denied that was the intent.

“That seven per cent is generating more than $140 million per year for the government,” Doyle said. “The system is barely getting half of that back in legal aid.”

He said chronic underfunding of legal aid has meant tighter means tests over the years that leave a growing number of people inefficiently representing themselves before the courts.

B.C. Crown Counsel Association past president Samiran Lakshman said self-represented litigants are an ongoing problem in the courts, adding nine out of 10 family law cases have at least one party appearing without a lawyer.

“It’s the children of B.C. who get robbed of justice when the parents don’t have all the tools they need to make their case,” he said.

Adding to the problem, Lakshman said, is the shrinking number of lawyers willing to do legal aid work in B.C. because the money provided makes it “simply unsustainable.”

The court system continues to run with too few judges, he said, as well as insufficient staff in other areas, such as court registries, which sometimes close for the afternoon because there aren’t enough clerks to both handle registry inquiries and record proceedings in court.

But measurements of court congestion have improved in most respects – the length of time to get a half-day criminal case to trial has improved from more than 10 months in 2011 to just five, below the provincial goal of six months.

Lakshman agreed there’s been dramatic improvement on criminal cases, but said delays are “getting intolerable” for family court and there continue to be signs of severe congestion in specific courthouses.

A Surrey courtroom recently had one day when six full-day trials were scheduled, he said.

“We don’t have a healthy justice system.”

Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said the Legal Services Society has assured her it will do its best to refer clients to willing legal aid lawyers in the event of job action, potentially by bringing them in from other areas if necessary.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Various Victoria locations were hit with a slew of anti-bylaw graffiti Wednesday. This image has been altered to cover up profane language. (Submitted photo)
UPDATED: Slew of anti-bylaw graffiti an ‘unacceptable’ form of communication says Victoria mayor, police

Downtown businesses, bylaw office and Ministry of Finance vandalized Wednesday morning

The Gordon Head Recreation Centre stands in as the Quimper Regional Hospital on Feb. 23 for filming Maid, a 10-part Netflix series. (Greg Sutton/District of Saanich)
Netflix transforms Saanich recreation centre into hospital for filming

Facility was closed to public Feb. 23 for filming of Maid

Greg Chow is the 2021 Local Hero of the Year. (Don Denton/Black Press Media)
Fighting fire a family affair for Colwood Assistant Chief Greg Chow

With 38 years of service, Greg Chow is the 2021 Hero of the Year

This rendering shows plans for the new “flyover”overpass connecting northbound traffic on Highway 17 heading west on Keating Cross Road. Plans currently seeking public input propose two options for the median along Keating Cross Road. Option 1 will prevent left turns onto Tamany Drive and Buena Vista Road. Option 2 (seen here)will allow for left turns onto Tamany Drive and Bujena Vista Road. (Screencap/Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure)
Public asked for comment on proposed overpass for Pat Bay in Central Saanich

New flyover overpass proposed for Highway 17 and Keating Cross Road

Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.'s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
456 new COVID-19 cases in B.C., 2 deaths

Since January 2020, 78,278 have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in B.C.

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Feb. 23

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media File Photo)
POLL: Are you struggling with Greater Victoria’s cost of housing?

While Victoria remains one of the most expensive cities in the country… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Vaccinating essential workers before seniors in B.C. could save lives: experts

A new study says the switch could also save up to $230 million in provincial health-care costs

Photograph By @KAYLAXANDERSON
VIDEO: Lynx grabs lunch in Kamloops

A lynx surprises a group of ducks and picks one off for lunch

When his owner had knee surgery, Kevin, 2, was able to continue to go for walks thanks to volunteers from Elder Dog Canada. (Contributed photo)
B.C. woman has nothing but praise for Elder Dog Canada

National organization has a fleet of volunteer walkers ready, but needs more clients to serve

Two women were arrested in Nanaimo for refusing to wear masks and causing disturbance on a BC Ferries vessel. (File photo)
B.C. ferry passengers arrested and fined for disturbance, refusing to wear masks

Police said woman threatened their pensions in Feb. 21 incident aboard Nanaimo-bound boat

A Nanaimo RCMP vehicle in the Woodgrove Centre parking lot. (News Bulletin file photo)
Woman groped by stranger in mall parking lot in Nanaimo

Incident happened near bus loop Saturday, Feb. 20, at about 4:45 p.m.

The late Michael Gregory, 57, is accused of sexually exploiting six junior high students between 1999 and 2005. (Pixabay)
Former Alberta teacher accused of sexually assaulting students found dead in B.C.

Mounties say Michael Gregory’s death has been deemed ‘non-suspicious’

Most Read