We Need Legal Aid

The Challenge

Equal access to justice is a cornerstone of a democratic society. The legal aid system is under-funded and under-resourced and we’re all paying the cost:

  • The deterioration of legal aid is the result of perpetual under-funding and service cuts, at a time when more people, not fewer, need help.
  • The current system puts vulnerable people – mothers fleeing abusive relationships, employees seeking fair treatment, tenants facing eviction – at an extreme disadvantage. Those impacted most are our mothers, sisters, children and grandparents.
  • In any three-year period, a BC resident has a 45% chance of coming into contact with the justice system. When they can’t afford a lawyer, self-representation results in more trials, longer trials and the advancement of cases that a lawyer would otherwise settle or advise against pursuing in court.
  • The current lack of access to legal aid has contributed to the court system being overwhelmed and cases being thrown out. People accused of serious crimes walk free because their cases can’t be heard in time, while innocent women and children suffer because they can’t access legal aid.
  • A lack of legal aid funding is unacceptable in a province as rich as ours. This means that many British Columbians facing loss of liberty, homelessness or losing custody of their children do not have access to representation.
  • Our justice system rests on the premise that all “sides” in a dispute will be represented. Yet people are often forced to represent themselves. This leads to a situation where those who can afford lawyers have an unfair advantage against those who cannot.
  • The cuts to legal aid have in some ways disproportionately impacted rural British Columbia.
  • Up to 80% of criminal cases are resolved before trial by lawyers. However, when a person is self-representing, this becomes impossible, forcing an expensive trial that could have been avoided.
  • Taxpayers pick up the tab for these inefficiencies as other government agencies – including police and social/health services – deal with the fallout.
  • Underfunding legal aid is bad fiscal policy. Existing research shows that increased funding for legal assistance programs actually saves money, by making the system more efficient and reducing the burden of health care, mental health and social welfare costs.