Vancouver: The Province has reached an agreement with the Association of Legal Aid Lawyers (ALL) and the Legal Services Society (LSS).
ALL and LSS provide low-income British Columbians with adequate financial support to hire a lawyer to advise and represent them in criminal, refugee and child welfare hearings.
This agreement is the most recent of several provincial government initiatives to improve access to justice. The improvement in funding under this agreement means more lawyers will be willing to take on legal aid contracts, providing better services, greater stability and more fairness in court processes for British Columbians.
“For more than a decade, legal aid lawyers have delivered services to British Columbians at below cost in order to help the most vulnerable members of our province,” said David Eby, Attorney General. “The long-running underfunding of legal aid was profoundly unfair to British Columbians, especially in rural communities where there have been fewer and fewer lawyers – in some cases no lawyers at all – willing to take on dramatically underpaid legal aid cases. Those bad old days are behind us. Our new partnership with the Association of Legal Aid Lawyers will ensure we provide high-quality legal services to low-income British Columbians going forward.”
The new agreement establishes a formal and ongoing negotiating relationship between ALL, LSS and the government – a relationship that previously did not exist, despite government having similar relationships with almost every other sector of the justice system, including judges, Crown counsel, sheriffs and administrative staff.
Government, ALL and LSS also agreed to establish an ongoing policy consultation process to discuss legal aid policy and access-to-justice issues during the term of the agreement.
“It is embarrassing how poorly previous governments have treated the lawyers who help refugees, as well as those who are poor, marginalized and often face serious mental health and addiction challenges,” said Eby. “I am so proud that our government is addressing this injustice.”
The ALL negotiating team issued this statement: “We are pleased to see an agreement that will provide greater stability. The establishment of an ongoing negotiating relationship will pave the way for smoother negotiations in the future.”
Nancy Merrill, QC, president, Law Society of British Columbia said: “With this announcement, the provincial government is recognizing the important role legal professionals have in ensuring that vulnerable British Columbians have access to advice and representation for their legal problems. Attorney General David Eby and the provincial government deserve credit for establishing a new and ongoing relationship with ALL that addresses the needs of legal aid clients.”
Jean Whittow, QC, board chair, Legal Services Society said: “The Legal Services Society welcomes the news that lawyers who work on behalf of legal aid clients will be better compensated. With increased rates, LSS is confident it can attract and retain lawyers that can meet the legal needs of low-income people in British Columbia. We look forward to working with the Ministry of Attorney General and Association of Legal Aid Lawyers to further improve legal aid services in B.C.”