ALL for One, One for ALL to Balance Scales

  • August 01, 2018
News from Donna Turko, QC

The Association of Legal-Aid Lawyers (“ALL”) (registration pending) is seeking membership of all lawyers who accept legal aid referrals. ALL would greatly appreciate support from the legal profession in the fight for an increase in legal aid funding, fair tariffs, and a respectful partnership between LSS
and lawyers.

With the support of the CBA, lawyers across BC have been meeting to form ALL to address the weakened legal aid system and to negotiate with government on behalf of lawyers who accept legal aid referrals. With no increase in the legal aid tariff for 22 years, our criminal lawyers are remunerated at a rate of about 1/2 that of their Ontario counterparts, despite substantial increases in salaries for judges, Crown and other criminal justice partners. While there have been some financial increases for family law and Indigenous services, but nothing for the tariff, the inherent unfairness in renumeration is painfully obvious.

Common yearly income for junior criminal defence counsel working as sole practitioners is considered to be around mid-$30,000 a year. The starting salary of Crown counsel is $87,600 plus extensive benefits with set annual increases.

There are many concerns expressed by lawyers who take on referrals from the Legal Services Society (“LSS”), including the lack of proper funding to conduct an adequate defence, the growing imbalance between Crown and legal aid funding for experts and litigation support, and the ongoing and time-consuming interactions with LSS staff who are reduced to trying to protect their dwindling budget. Current cash-strapped LSS policies are also seen as unsupportive of articled students and junior counsel.

CBABC elected officer Sandra Mandanici was instrumental in getting the CBABC on board: “It has been very difficult for lawyers who practice legal aid to band together as many are sole practitioners struggling to stay above water. The CBABC, Bill Veenstra and former Supreme Court Judge Peter Leask have been invaluable in helping this association get off the ground.”