New deal gives stability to legal aid lawyers, clients: B.C. attorney general
B.C.'s attorney general David Eby. (Photo: Steve Hughes/CTV Vancouver)
The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, October 15, 2019 2:53PM PDT
Last Updated Tuesday, October 15, 2019 7:22PM PDT
VANCOUVER - The British Columbia government has reached an agreement with legal aid lawyers who represent low-income clients.
Attorney General David Eby said the two-and-a-half-year deal with the Association of Legal Aid Lawyers and the Legal Aid Society will ensure better access to legal support and more stability for lawyers who have been giving services at below cost.
Lawyers who help those with disabilities, mental-health issues, addiction and other struggles had not seen a wage increase since 2006, he told a news conference Tuesday.
"The injustice of that kind of structure, where the lawyers who represent the most vulnerable are the worst-paid actors of any of the people in the courtroom is an incredibly troubling situation and one we have moved to address through this," he said.
The new agreement will allow for more duty counsel to provide advice on family and criminal matters and the province will open more clinics allowing people to access services such as use of computers and printers.
Eby said more information will be provided in the coming weeks on where the clinics will be opening.
The province did not provide figures on how much wages will increase or how many clinics will open.
The new deal sets a minimal level of essential service to ensure clients can access lawyers during future negotiations.
Eby said cutbacks to legal aid in 2002 led to backlogs, delays and people representing themselves in court, while the number of legal-aid cases dropped from over 47,000 to less than 30,000 under the former Liberal government.
"People who used to be able to depend on legal aid and somebody being there to assist them through a complicated process were no longer able to count on that support,” he said. “In many cases they were forced to go it alone."
Jean Whittow, board chair of the Legal Services Society, said she's confident more legal-aid lawyers will be attracted to the important work of helping marginalized people without disruptions in service.
Last year, the province increased funding by $26 million over three years, the most significant amount of funding since 2002, Eby said.
In May, the government was forced to provide a one-time grant of $7.9 million to help develop a new approach to legal-aid funding, averting a withdrawal of the service.
The Association of Legal Aid Lawyers said the agreement meant members would not limit or suspend the work they do.
The province's interim agreement included a pay increase from April to October while the current agreement was being negotiated.
Controversial cuts starting in 2002 had a majority of BC Law Society members voting to censure then-attorney general Geoff Plant.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 15.