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BC lawyers’ association plans public consult on legal aid crisis

The British Columbia branch of the Canadian Bar Association will hold a ‘People’s Commission’ on the sorry state of legal aid in the province.

“The British Columbia Branch . . . recognizes that while a government-funded and organized consultation process would be appropriate, given the current economic realities of the province, it is probably unlikely,” BCCBA president James Bond wrote in a message today to people involved in the justice system.

“Therefore, we hope to work with all of you and other justice system stakeholders and interested persons in the creation of a ‘People's Commission’ which would consult with British Columbians on issues such as what legal aid services should be delivered, who they should be delivered by, and how they should be funded,” Bond wrote.

Attorney General Mike de Jong is supportive of the process, Bond said, adding that de Jong and the government have been invited to provide suggestions on how to structure the consultation process and are welcome to participate.

A news release distributed separately called for public hearings but did not say the BCCBA planned to organize them.

“A flawed funding and delivery model has created a crisis of access to justice at a time when people most need help," that release quoted Bond saying. "The more comprehensive legal aid system which we once knew in this province is no longer recognizable as such. The volatility of its funding model has led to unrealistic limitations on who can access legal services for what needs, and increased reliance on ‘self-help’ materials for people who have to go to court unrepresented."

The announcement comes a day after lawyers in Kamloops withdrew their duty counsel services to protest the closure of regional legal aid offices in Kamloops, Surrey, Kelowna, Prince George and Victoria.

"It is refreshing to see the Canadian Bar Association publicly come out about reviewing the concerns about legal aid in the province," said Graham Kay, chair of the Kamloops Legal Aid Tariff Lawyers Committee. He said he hopes there'll be a resolution to the issues before March 26 when the offices are slated to close.

“We all want to see legal aid restored so it can provide basic service to those who need it, which is often the most marginalized in our society,” said Kevin Love, a lawyer with Vancouver’s Community Legal Assistance Society. Many people with average incomes also have trouble affording lawyers’ fees, he added.

Attorney General de Jong was not immediately available for comment.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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