November 3, 2009

Five B.C. Legal Aid Offices Closing

The Legal Services Society (LSS), which administers legal aid in British Columbia, has announced that it will be closing its offices in Surrey, Kelowna, Victoria, Prince George and Kamloops - essentially all of its regional offices outside of Vancouver.

There are also reports that LSS will be closing LAWline, a free service providing legal advice over the telephone, the value of which I wrote about earlier this year. Both of these developments will severely limit access to justice in rural areas of the province, which are already underserved by lawyers and courts.

The cuts are in addition to those announced in January when the LSS terminated a variety of services, including legal aid for those charged with breaches of bail or probation. While the cuts are the result of decreased funding from non-governmental sources, the Canadian Press notes that the British Columbia government has reduced its funding of legal aid from $96 million in 2001-2002 to $74 million today.

This is despite the fact that in the intervening years, British Columbia's population has grown substantially, while an economic recession and the increasing cost of legal services has made getting legal representation and advice unaffordable for most low to middle income residents.