THE Canadian Bar Association, BC Branch (CBABC) on Tuesday welcomed the BC government budget announcement which provides increased investments in the justice sector for the next three years. These include:
- Nearly $4.8 million in additional annual funding for legal aid, with a focus on Indigenous and family law services;
- A further $3.8 million per year to fund expansion of Parents Legal Centres;
- $5 million more per year for sheriff services and court staff to help reduce delays in our court system; and
- An additional $3.3 million annually for Ministry initiatives related to family dispute resolution services and increasing digital access to justice services.
“These are material increases in funding that will improve access to justice for many within the province, including those in Indigenous, rural and remote communities”, said Bill Veenstra, CBABC President.
“At the same time, the new legal aid funding is only about a quarter of what is needed to provide family law assistance to all qualifying individuals. All British Columbians, especially our most vulnerable, need effective access to legal advice and representation. With today’s budget, the government has made significant steps toward that goal, but a healthier investment is still necessary.”
Veenstra also expressed concern over the lack of movement on the tariff, or hourly rate, paid to legal aid service providers. “The current tariff has increased just once since 1991, and does not provide reasonable compensation for those assisting low-income people who qualify for legal aid. It is far behind the rate in comparable jurisdictions like Ontario, and the rate the government pays the outside lawyers it hires in child protection cases.” Veenstra pointed out. “As a result, we are seeing fewer and fewer lawyers willing and financially able to perform this important work.”
CBABC’s vision is better access to an improved justice system for British Columbians. “The BC justice system needs to provide practical assistance that helps people obtain fast, effective resolutions to everyday legal problems so they can move on with their lives,” Veenstra emphasized. “We look forward to working with Minister [David] Eby and other justice system stakeholders to continue to improve legal aid services and ensure access for those who are financially eligible.”