Legal aid gets a rare boost for family cases

Mediation between parties a big part of new Legal Aid programs.

by Tom Fletcher

Black Press

VICTORIA – The B.C. government has added to its pared-down legal aid budget to finance the hiring of a second staff lawyer to handle urgent family law cases, and to expand legal advice by phone for other family disputes around the province.

Attorney General Suzanne Anton announced Tuesday the expansion of a pilot program that started with a staff lawyer in Vancouver dedicated to legal aid clients with family law disputes. The second family court “duty counsel” will be based at the Victoria courthouse.

The program is funded with an extra $2 million a year for three years, bringing this year’s Legal Services Society budget to $74.5 million.

Legal Services Society board chair Tom Christensen said the phone service will now be able to offer eligible clients up to six hours with the same lawyer, to get advice on issues such as child support and parenting arrangements so they can represent themselves in family court.

Anton said there are three more pilot projects to come. These are an expanded model for legal aid staff lawyers in criminal cases, a parents’ legal centre for child protection cases and a family mediation referral program.

The financing move comes as the Trial Lawyers’ Association of B.C. resumes its intermittent strike against legal aid work to protest the lack of funding. Lawyers are refusing legal aid for the first week of each month in a protest that began in July.

The association notes that 80 per cent of people in family court are not represented by a lawyer, and that the rate paid to legal aid lawyers hasn’t changed since the B.C. government cut the Legal Service Society budget by about 40 per cent between 2001 and 2005.

Anton said the overall speed of the court system is improving, and the newly expanded program is designed to settle more cases out of court.

“On a family matter in particular, court is not necessarily the final destination, not necessarily the best destination,” Anton said. “This is the emphasis of the new Family Law Act. We would rather parties settled the matter between themselves with the help of a mediator, with the help of our family justice mediation services, with the help of the Justice Access Centres.”

The Trial Lawyers’ Association says only half of provincial sales tax revenue is used for its original purpose to pay legal bills.

 

Just Posted

Cache Creek landfill extension set for September completion

Project has been delayed due to wildfires and floods over past two years

Drag races set to return for Graffiti Days weekend

Annual event features old favourites like the smoke show, and new events like a drive-in movie

Bonaparte River fishway, Thompson steelhead among projects awarded grant funding

More than $9 million will help 170 fish and wildlife projects around B.C.

Wellness clinics provide free, drop-in health information

New service in Clinton helps patients manage their health care and stay out of hospital

New airline regulations bring compensation for tarmac delays, over-bookings

Some of the new regulations will roll out in July, while others are expected for December.

Scheer says it would take Conservatives five years to balance budget

Scheeraccused the Liberal government of spending $79.5 billion of previously unbudgeted funds

B.C. man, 30, arrested for driving his parents’ cars while impaired twice in one day

The Vancouver-area man was arrested after officers caught him driving impaired twice in one day

More than half of Canadians support ban on handguns, assault rifles: study

Divide between rural and urban respondents in latest Angus Reid Institute public opinion study

Spring rain needed as B.C. sees one of the lowest snowpack levels in 40 years

Snowpack levels in B.C. recorded on May 15 were similar to those in 2015 and 2016

Theresa May to quit as party leader June 7, sparking race for new PM

The new Conservative leader will become prime minister without the need for a general election

B.C. man who fell off cliff returns there to rescue eagle from vulture attack

Nanaimo’s James Farkas, who broke his hip in a fall, saves eagle on same beach months later

Raptors beat Bucks 105-99 to move within 1 game of NBA Finals

Leonard scores 35 as Toronto takes 3-2 series lead over Milwaukee

Municipalities protest after B.C. declares marijuana crops ‘farm use’

UBCM president seeks answers in letter to John Horgan government

Most Read