All I want is a better politics. I do not care what point of view people come from, but just that people treat each other with respect - especially when they disagree.” ~~ Bernard von Schulmann


Monday, March 20, 2017

ALAN FORSETH ... Nearly every story written, about Legal Aid, always shows it in a crisis due to a lack of funding ... WHY?



For many years now, BC's legal aid system appears to be suffering from a shortage of finances, that would allow it to do the job it has tasked with.  That litany of financial shortages has been documented for many years, as this brief
listing of news stories reports.

 

 

Attorney-general rejects claims that BC legal-aid is in crisis (March 8th, 2011)

 Attorney-general Barry Penner has tossed cold water on a call for more government funding for legal aid ... a hard-hitting report found (legal aid) was failing to meet “even the most basic needs” of British Columbians.

... Mr. Doust recommended that the government should restore $47-million to legal aid services in order to bring funds to where they were in 2002 ... the gap between legal aid needs and services has grown into a wide chasm, resulting in human suffering and related social and economic costs borne by our community ... ”

Former Attorney-General of the day, Penner challenged the claims of Len Doust saying, "... I think legal aid works well for a significant number of people that require it.”   

Did you catch that wording? Works well for a 'significant number of people.  I don't know about you, however I'd be more inclined to believe Doust who has, according to the above mentioned Globe and Mail story detailed a ... 

" ... litany of cutbacks to legal aid ... beginning in 2002, the government reduced legal aid’s budget by close to 40 per cent over three years, resulting in the closing of 45 branch offices ... offices were replaced by seven regional centres, which have now been reduced to two... at the same time, poverty and family law services were eliminated.

... our legal aid system is failing the people of British Columbia ... every day many people struggle and fail to gain the necessary services to the justice system in order to enforce or defend their rights and to benefit from protections guaranteed to them by law.”

 

 

BC lawyers protest lack of legal aid funding (July 7th, 2014)

 ... we have almost 95 per cent of people in our family courts unrepresented ... single moms cannot get a lawyer. They are expected to go up against former spouses who very often can afford to pay a lawyer ... roughly 40 per cent of people who are accused of criminal offenses are forced to fend for themselves in court because they can’t afford a lawyer.

... government currently provides $56 million a year for legal aid ... a tax on lawyers’ fees was introduced in B.C. in the early 1990s ... revenue from the tax (about $150 million last year) was always meant to go solely towards legal aid ...

 

 

BC budget has new money for courts, none for legal aid  (Feb 18th, 2015)

... despite a projected budget surplus of nearly $900 million, there is no new funding for legal aid services in the province

 

 

Mother says abduction case highlights BC’s family legal aid shortcomings (September 26, 2016)
... to be eligible for legal aid in family law cases ... the person must also meet a financial eligibility test — a level that is essentially set at the poverty line ... very limited level of assistance for people in emergencies ... of those who apply for legal aid, 75 per cent are women ... three out of five applications are refused.


Suzanne Anton, Attorney General and Minister of Justice (February 2017)
In a letter to the Vancouver Sun Suzanne Anton told all willing to listen that;  ... access to justice is my priority ... this includes $74.6 million in transfers to the Legal Services Society (LSS) for traditional legal aid services ... our approach is working — more British Columbians have access to justice and legal resources to help them resolve their disputes.


BUT WAIT AS MINUTE ... back in 2014 there was $150 million that SHOULD HAVE gone into Legal Aid -- and DIDN'T.  And the same thing happened for years before that.  Still Suzanne Anton (and I suspect Premier Christy Clark as well), was crowing just a month ago how access to justice was her priority.  

Why then has Legal Aid been short-changed, year after year, by this current government?

Funding problems for Legal Aid have resulted in those needing it being unable to access it.  Nearly every story written, about Legal Aid, always shows it in a crisis due to a lack of funding ... WHY?

This government continually adds taxes and fees for specific programs, and then in nearly every case, dumps those revenues into a black hole called General Revenue.

The black hole serves a purpose however for the BC Liberal government.  It can be buried there until it is needed, and then doled out in glittering media events meant to garner praise for the government.

But does the money needed get to Legal Aid?  Not so much.  Where's the glitter there?

Here's the bottom line:
  1. in 1992 a provincial sales tax was applied to legal services in BC ... the tax was in the amount of seven percent (7%)
  2. the government of the day did reference that the revenue from the tax would offset the escalating costs of legal aid
  3. in 2013 revenue from this tax was approximately $150 million dollars

According to Legal Feeds, the BC Branch of the Canadian Bar Association has issued a 27-page report entitled "An Agenda for Justice”. 

The report outlines the dire need for more resources to be allocated to BC's frayed legal system.  This would help in assisting families in crisis, caught in the court system, without access to legal representation ... for issues that threaten effective access to justice including the lack of provincial funding for legal aid services (services that are vital for British Columbians who cannot otherwise afford legal assistance), along with court staffing and infrastructure ... and resources committed to support out-of-court resolution, including more family justice counsellors and government-paid mediators. 

That's the short list of what an Agenda for Justice sees as requiring immediate attention.  An Executive Summary of the report can be found by CLICKING HERE  The BC Bar Association also hopes these issues can be raised during the May 9 provincial election campaign.

Wrapping up this piece, let me bring to your attention Section 9 of the Legal Services Society Act.  It states that the Societies mandate is to, " ... help people to solve their legal problems, and to facilitate access to justice."

It seems however, in story after story, that Legal Aid has been unable to provide that key role of facilitating access to justice. 

And what appears to be the biggest obstacle?  A lack of funding ... due to a tax on legal services continually being misdirected by the BC government.

I'm wondering if you think that's right ... so your thoughts and comments are welcome.

In Kamloops, I'm Alan Forseth.

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