VICTORIA – The Canadian Bar Association BC Branch (CBABC) expressed disappointment at the lack of investment in a justice system under increased duress in tough economic times, and the failure to remove the discriminatory tax on legal services.
“Health, education and justice are the three pillars of government investment required to ensure social stability that allow a province to build economic strength,” said CBABC Vice President James Bond, attending the 2009 Budget lock-up on behalf of the Branch. “In this budget, the government invested in two of the three pillars, but provided very little to the frontlines of a justice system struggling to ensure access to legal services, court resources and timely resolution of legal problems.”
Modest increases have been allocated to justice system reform and to accommodate labour costs within the Ministry and court system, but there is no new money for the Legal Services Society (LSS) and no reduction in court fees or elimination of the tax on legal services.
“Lawyers and judges see every day the challenges that people face when they cannot afford legal services, or when access to the courts has decreased, as has been the case in many smaller communities in BC,” said Mr. Bond. “At the same time, legal aid services are being cut by LSS because non-governmental revenue sources are decreasing and demand is increasing in the current economic environment.”
Noticeably absent from the BC “Competitive Advantage” tax reduction plan is the elimination of the provincial tax on legal services, which places an additional financial burden on those who need legal services to prevent and resolve problems. “This is a tax paid by individuals, families and businesses that no-one in Alberta or Ontario has to pay,” said Mr. Bond. “It penalizes those who access legal services in our province, and puts BC law firms at a competitive disadvantage.”
One positive item in the Budget was the establishment of a new law school at Thompson River University (TRU). CBABC has been working with the Law Foundation of BC and the law schools at UBC and UVic to develop new strategies to attract lawyers to communities outside of the Lower Mainland, which are currently experiencing critical gaps in access to lawyers. A third law school in Kamloops will provide access to legal training for students in the Interior of BC. “We have confirmed with the Ministry of Advanced Education that the funding for the new law school will not affect the current funding of BC’s highly regarded law schools at UBC and UVic,” said Mr. Bond. “We look forward to working with the new TRU Law School Dean when hired, to ensure that students trained in Kamloops remain in BC to meet the needs of our citizens.”
The Canadian Bar Association is the professional organization representing more than 38,000 lawyers, judges and law students in Canada, including 6,400 members in British Columbia.