January 15, 2009

Legal Aid Cuts Come at Worst Possible Time

The Vancouver Sun reported today that the Legal Services Society (which administers legal aid in British Columbia) is cutting legal assistance, even though the demand for legal services, especially in immigration and emergency family law, has increased substantially this year.

The LSS is planning $12.7 million in spending cuts through layoffs and decreased immigration, duty counsel and LawLine funding. LawLine is a free telephone service for people needing legal assistance, whether or not they qualify for legal aid.

The CBC reports that "the level of aid provided in family and criminal cases will be reduced, and that the society will drastically reduce advocacy efforts designed to integrate legal aid and promote reform in the justice system."

The cuts will likely also reduce the number of lawyers taking on legal aid cases, since the already low fees paid by LLS for legal aid cases will be reduced through the cancellation of administration fees. Family law cases, where the administrative costs for a lawyer are particularly high, are expected to be most heavily hit.

Reduced contributions from non-government sources, such as the Notary Foundation of B.C., are partly to blame for the cuts and it is unclear whether the government will provide additional funding.

The cuts come at a particularly vulnerable time for those in need of legal aid; it stands to reason that economic turmoil increases the need for legal aid, since some of the main causes of legal woes, including divorces, bankruptcy, foreclosures and unemployment all increase substantially during recessions. The provincial government needs to act quickly to restore funding to ensure that those bearing the brunt of British Columbia's recession do not have their troubles compounded to an irreparable degree by being denied legal representation when they need it most.

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