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.

Just Posted

Victoria-born, 16-time Grammy winning musician David Foster penned a letter to the Greater Victoria School District May 7 urging them not to cut music programs. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)
David Foster joins fight to save music in Greater Victoria School District

‘Music is the great equalizer’ Foster wrote in a letter to the district

‘Nindanikoobijiganag: We are Star People’ by Mississauga Nishnaabe Lucbanin artist Estrella Whetung. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
Victoria beadwork exhibit speaks to evolving, enduring nature of Indigenous art

On Beaded Ground features work from West Coast artists and a Cedar Hill Middle School group

A seniors housing complex proposed for Cedar Hill Road in Saanich was supported by council after a public hearing on May 12. (Rendering by Jenson Group Architects)
New 85-unit seniors housing development gets green light from Saanich council

Four-storey rental complex would be located on Cedar Hill Road

Victoria police responded to a vehicle where this dog was found in distress due to the heat after being left inside. (Photo courtesy of VicPD)
Hot cars can be fatal to dogs left inside, Victoria police reminds public after distress calls

Victoria police found two dogs in a car with an internal temperature of 47 C on Friday

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

On Friday, May 14 at Meadow Gardens Golf Club in Pitt Meadows, Michael Caan joined a very elite club of golfers who have shot under 60 (Instagram)
Crowds at English Bay were blasted with a large beam of light from an RCMP Air-1 helicopter on Friday, May 14. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marc Grandmaison
Police enlist RCMP helicopter to disperse thousands crowded on Vancouver beach

On Friday night, police were witness to ‘several thousand people staying well into the evening’

Sinikka Gay Elliott was reported missing on Salt Spring Island on Wednesday, May 12. (Courtesty Salt Spring RCMP)
Body of UBC professor found on Salt Spring Island, no foul play suspected

Sinikka Elliott taught sociology at the university

The first Black judge named to the BC Supreme Court, Selwyn Romilly, was handcuffed at 9:15 a.m. May 14 while walking along the seawall. (YouTube/Screen grab)
Police apologize after wrongly arresting B.C.’s first Black Supreme Court Justice

At 81 years old, the retired judge was handcuffed in public while out for a walk Friday morning

Queen Elizabeth II and Clive Holland, deputy commonwealth president of the Royal Life Saving Society, top left, virtually present Dr. Steve Beerman, top right, with the King Edward VII Cup for his drowning-prevention work. Tanner Gorille and Sarah Downs were honoured with Russell Medals for their life-saving resuscitation. (Buckingham Palace photo)
Queen presents Vancouver Island doctor with award for global drowning prevention

Dr. Steve Beerman receives Royal Life Saving Society’s King Edward VII Cup at virtual ceremony

Former UFV Cascades wrestling coach Arjan Singh Bhullar is now the ONE heavyweight champion after defeating Brandon Vera via TKO in round two on Saturday in Singapore. (ONE Championship)
Former UFV wrestling coach wins MMA championship

Arjan Singh Bhullar captures ONE heavyweight title, first Indian origin fighter to achieve honour

Astra Zeneca vaccine waits for injection in a Feb. 3, 2021 file photo. A Langley man has become the second B.C. resident to suffer a blood clot following an injection. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
B.C. man required emergency surgery after AstraZeneca vaccination

Shaun Mulldoon suffered ‘massive blood clot’ after jab

Chilliwack’s Kile Brown, performing as drag queen Hailey Adler, dances and lip syncs in front of hundreds of people during the inaugural Chilliwack Pride Barbecue at the Neighbourhood Learning Centre on Aug. 24, 2019. Monday, May 17 is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of May 16 to 22

International Day Against Homophobia, Talk Like Yoda Day, Sea Monkey Day all coming up this week

Most Read