The Legal Aid crisis in B.C. is set to peak in early 2014, and criminal lawyers across the Province are preparing to halt services between the dates of February 17th, and March 30th of 2014. This means that Trials for offences ranging from impaired driving, shoplifting, assault, murder, you name it, that are currently scheduled for that time period, will be adjourned to later dates. What could cause such chaos and delay in our Court system? You guessed it – Provincial Government funding cuts. And it isn’t just a small percentage that lawyers would see taken off of their earnings during February and March – they wouldn’t be getting paid. At all.
The legal aid system in B.C. has taken blow after blow over the last 10 years, making it increasingly difficult for those with a low income to have access to sound legal advice. After the Legal Services Society recently announced that the criminal tariff faced a $2.5 million dollar deficit (driven by Stephen Harper’s new Safe Streets and Communities Act I might add, along with other Federal political initiatives), they declared that they had no choice but to deny lawyers payment for their services in the aforementioned time frame.
This is a serious issue. Our Court system is already severely backlogged, and this 6 week long hiatus is only going to going to cause catastrophic scheduling conflicts. Those scheduling conflicts could lead to the frailties in the administration of justice in our Province.
While the Legal Services Society is still set to meet with the Attorney General of B.C. to discuss these ever-growing problems, we are unlikely to see a resolution in the near future. Where there is no money in the budget, there can be no service provided.
Legal Aid is an essential component of our justice system; it protects the most vulnerable in our society. It is clear that British Columbia’s Provincial government doesn’t have societies best interests in mind, and shows no signs of having a change of heart.