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“I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.” ~~ John G. Diefenbaker

We tend to think about justice as being the police the courts and prisons. It is much more than that – it is about people and their everyday problems

Do you agree, or disagree, with the following statement?

An effective justice system is one that actively supports the ability of families, communities and businesses to evolve and thrive. And as residents of BC we want practical laws to govern our affairs -- and fast. 

According to the BC Branch of the Canadian Bar Association (CBABC), who sought out our opinion, we also desire effective resolution of legal conflicts, that interfere with our lives and businesses.  And finally, we also want a government that is ready to take action and deliver a justice system which provides:

Stability for Families ... Security for Communities ... Certainty for Business ... and ... Accountability to the Public.  

A 2013 report from the BC Branch of the Canadian Bar Association stated what seems would be obvious to any and all:

  1. Delays in child custody decisions can amount to half or more of a child’s life.
  2. Those accused of criminal offenses have had their charges dropped due to delay in the courts ... meanwhile ...
  3. Those seeking to clear their names must wait for lengthy periods of time for their day in court.
  4. Businesses seeking to collect a debt or resolve a shareholders’ dispute may wait 18 months or more to resolve their dispute through the court system.

Back in 2013, when this report was written, spending on the justice system, had decreased to just one per cent of its expenditures on the administration of justice. In fact, the 10-year period of 2002 to 2013, saw funding cuts of more than $113 million ... creating what was then described as a crisis.

Fast forward to February 2017, and once again the BC Branch of the Canadian Bar Association released an up-dated document -- An Agenda for Justice.  The document, reviewed a series of specific issues that were creating hardship, or uncertainty, for those involved with our justice system – issues which could be grouped under the following four broad categories.

Effective Access to Justice ... Support for BC’s Families ... Public Safety and Community Fairness ... and Stability for Business.

Quoting that 2017 report, they stated:

We tend to think about justice as being the police, the courts and prisons. It is much more than that – it is about people and their everyday problems. It is about a family in crisis, caught in the court system, without access to legal representation”.

“It is about a couple dealing with health, financial and related legal decisions for an ageing parent. It is about the family business trying to arrange a succession plan or settle a contract dispute. It is about our indigenous peoples struggling in a system that has not served them well to break the cycle of crime and poverty”.

The report continued, “Two issues that threaten effective access to justice today ... the lack of provincial funding for legal aid services, services that are vital for British Columbians who cannot otherwise afford legal assistance ... and court staffing and infrastructure.”

That combination of punches was finished with a right hook to the jaw. “... insufficient court staffing and the lack of availability of Provincial Court judges create delays and threaten the delivery of justice”.

Now stay with me ... it’s taking awhile ... however action by the government is slowly about to get underway ... but not before the BC Branch of the Canadian Bar Association stepped up once again. Last September (2018) the CBABC published An Agenda for Justice – Platform Updates.

The update to the 2017 publication did acknowledge work being down by the provincial Attorney Generals Office, to improve access to justice in BC, including recently increased investment in key areas, such as Legal Aid for family law services.

It wasn’t all wine and roses however, as the report also detailed several areas still lacking support.  Those areas included:
... Indigenous justice ... the BC Mental Health Act ... Court Services staffing ... and the establishment of a Unified Family Court. Further, An Agenda for Justice – Platform Updates 2018 identified emerging issues including legislative changes meant to improve finances at the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia.

Legal Aid has been a bone of contention for many, this over numerous years and changes in government. The CBABC continues to advocate for increased funding of Legal Aid for family law matters in order to provide assistance to all qualifying individuals.

Another area of concern is a Unified Family Court (UFC) ... which would be one level of court dealing with all family law matters. According the BC Branch of the Canadian Bar Association, it appears Justin Trudeau’s federal government is committed to establishing and funding UFCs across the country. If that is indeed so, then it would be incumbent on the BC NDP government of John Horgan to negotiate to have this be implemented in BC as part of the February 2019 budget.

Then there is Indigenous Justice, where there is hope that 300 Gladue reports being produced will be able to assist judges in sentencing Indigenous offenders. However, this is a small fraction of the reports required.  The Canadian Bar Association is also urging governments to ensure funding for all Indigenous offenders facing sentencing, who would seek production of, and would benefit from, a Gladue report.

AND NOW ... here is where the government catches up!

On October 4th of last year (2018) David Eby, BC’s Attorney General, requested a review of legal aid service delivery models, including a report with recommendations, by the end of the year.  The review is being conducted by practising lawyer Jamie Maclaren, using terms of reference laid out by the attorney general.

Then just a few short days ago, on January 25th, Eby stated that as part of his mandate to, “... improve and support legal aid, ...he would be ... reviewing a report by lawyer Jamie Maclaren, QC, on legal aid service delivery in British Columbia.”

Said Eby, “We need to make sure that the way legal aid is delivered works for the people who need those services, and Mr. Maclaren’s report will help guide the changes we make.”

Our government is committed to making key improvements to legal aid in B.C., but it will take time and we want to be sure we get it right.”

According to the BC government media release from January 24th:

The review focused on the effectiveness and efficiencies of legal aid service delivery in British Columbia from the point of view of citizens who use legal aid services. It also included analysis of the current service delivery models used by the Legal Services Society.”

Before it releases the report publicly, the BC government will review each recommendation to analyze and consider the potential social and financial impacts. Careful consideration of the report’s findings reflects government's interest in developing policy and improving services that make life better for all British Columbians.

Hmmmmmm ... I hate to say this, but that sounds like a lot of government blah-blah-blah with the bottom line of humming and hawing on whether to provide people who are in dire straights (and most in need) of having accessible legal help, will be provided with the services they need.  Just as a further FYI ... those are the finances which same (many?) would say were stolen by the provincial government to fund other more high-profile areas of government ... ones which get more glory for them in the media.

Oh, and if you missed it, what David Eby is calling for is still just a review of what is happening in the Legal Aid system – not a thorough review of changes needed to the entire legal system.

If indeed, as the government has stated, the overall aim is to advance the rule of law and increase access to justice in the province, then it will certainly find on overwhelming amount of detailed information available to it – all the AG’s Ministry has to do is provide fresh copies of the 2013, 2017, and 2018 reports from the BC Branch of the Canadian Bar Association, to Attorney General Minister David Eby.

I’m Alan Forseth in Kamloops.  If you have any thoughts on this, or anything else you read on the blog, I welcome you to share them in the Comments Section below. 


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