Critics call for more legal aid funding in B.C

  • January 22, 2013

Source: Nanaimo Daily News
Byline: Tamara Cunningham

Backlogs in the B.C. justice system will only get worse if the province continues to underfund the legal aid system, critics say.

They say legal aid funding was reduced by more than 33 per cent between 2002 and 2004, leading to cutbacks. Funding has not increased enough since to fully restore services, according to the B.C. branch of the Canadian Bar Association.

As a result, society's most vulnerable citizens are not accessing legal assistance on issues of poverty and family law, leading to increased social problems like homelessness, point out advocates with the BCCBA.

Those that decide to represent themselves in court contribute to a growing backlog of cases.

The association is calling on government to inject an immediate $5 million into the system to ease pressures and $20 million to bring funding to national levels.

It's also asking municipalities to push the B.C. government for increased funding.

The District of Lantzville recently agreed to take the issue to the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities calling it a problem "everyone pays the price for."

"If people don't have access to legal representation, they are stumbling through an extremely complex system on their own and that can slow down cases for other people waiting to get in front of a judge," said Coun. Jennifer Millbank.

Diane Brennan, a former paralegal with Nanaimo's legal aid office, calls the situation of legal aid underfunding "an absolute travesty" that has had a far-reaching and devastating affect on communities.