Cuts made to Legal Aid budget in 2002 still sting

British Columbians have been dealing with a beleaguered legal aid system since 2002.

British Columbians have been dealing with a beleaguered legal aid system since 2002 when the provincial Liberals slashed its budget by $30 million, says the Canadian Bar Association.

Now the economic downturn has put the system in outright peril, prompting the association to launch a public awareness campaign aimed at convincing the government to reinstate lost dollars.

“In 2002, the province made the argument that they needed to do cuts so they could balance the budget, and afford to be a generous society,” said Sharon Matthews, the president of the B.C. branch of the association, while on the Kelowna leg of the awareness tour.

“We made the cuts, but where is the generous society part?

When the economy took a nosedive, families broke down and demands for court services rose in tandem, leaving thousands of women, children and mentally ill residents without assistance when at their most vulnerable.

“Depending on the year or the month, (B.C.) is either The Best Place on Earth or has a Families First government,” said Matthews, highlighting the province’s two most recent PR slogans.

“Today families are being marginalized, and that’s unacceptable.”

And it’s not just poor families being impacted when they’re left alone to deal with the courts for everything from rental tenancy to custody issues.

As court hours are lost to those awkwardly navigating the system, there are more adjournments and longer trials, which push back criminal cases to the point that they’re dismissed for not being heard in a timely manner.

It’s leading to a wholesale loss of faith in the system.

According to a recent study conducted by Angus Reid, said Matthews, three out of five British Columbians don’t think the justice system treats every person fairly.

Conversely, nine out of 10 think every person should have access to a lawyers, and 75 per cent think legal aid should be an essential service.

And, for those in need of a business case, Matthews said reinstatement of the $50 million in funding would actually result in a savings of tax dollars.

Police and social workers are employed for longer hours as court cases drag on, and court time could be cast aside if more people had legal representation. That alone could reduce costs.

A one day hearing — depending on whether it is in provincial or supreme court—ranges in cost from $1,859 to $2,606.

Last year, the Supreme Court heard 63,093 cases—civil, family and criminal—while the provincial court had 257,147 filings—traffic/bylaw, civil, family, youth and adult criminal.

Around 80 per cent of criminal cases are resolved in negotiations when a lawyer is present.

The association believes the reinvestment in legal aid would pay for itself, and international studies back that theory up.

In a study conducted out of Australia, every dollar spent on legal aid saved between $1.60 to $30 for the country in time and resource expenditures.

To learn more, go to


Just Posted

Wild fires blaze in the Okanagan, the weekend in your words

We have compiled a community photo album of your wildfire photos

Okanagan Wildfires: An afternoon update on wildfires and evacuations

A Sunday afternoon look at the major wildfires impacting the Okanagan and Similkameen.

VIDEO: Sailing under the sun at the BC Games

Maple Bay in the Cowichan Valley was host to dozens of athletes sailing on small prams to planing dinghys

BC Wildfire holding steady on Okanagan Complex

Evening update on Okanagan fire situation

Power couple speed into top spot at L’Alpe de Grand Blanc at Big White

The professional riders have been training all year

BC Games: Day 3 wrap and closing ceremonies

The torch in the Cowichan Valley has been extinguished as Fort St. John gets ready to host the 2020 BC Winter Games

Police confirm girl, 8 others injured in Toronto shooting; shooter dead

Paramedics said many of the victims in Danforth, including a child, were rushed to trauma centres

Why do they do it? Coaches guide kids to wins, personal bests at the BC Games

Behind the 2,300 B.C. athletes are the 450 coaches who dedicate time to help train, compete

Reel Reviews: Floundering inferno

We quote Charlie Brown: “Good grief!”

UPDATE: Five taken to hospital following one of two Coquihalla accidents

One airlifted in critical condition, four taken via ambulance in stable condition

Ottawa fails to find alternative buyer for Trans Mountain pipeline by deadline

The feds had announced it was purchasing the $4.5 billion pipeline earlier this spring

Government sets full-time salary range for Justin Trudeau’s nanny

At its top range, the order works out to a rate of $21.79 per hour, assuming a 40-hour work week

Lower Mainland teams battle for baseball gold at BC Games

Vancouver Coastal squeaked out a 3-2 win against Fraser Valley

The Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw people signed an agreement-in-principle with the B.C. government

The signing ceremony, at the Eliza Archie Memorial School, was 25 years in the making

Most Read