Legal Services Society chair Tom Christensen and Attorney General Suzanne Anton introduce Margaret Payne (right)

Legal aid gets rare boost for family cases

Victoria and Vancouver now have staff lawyers, pilot program to expand to three other B.C. centres to handle parent disputes

VICTORIA – The B.C. government has added to its pared-down legal aid budget to finance the hiring of a second staff lawyer to handle urgent family law cases, and to expand legal advice by phone for other family disputes around the province.

Attorney General Suzanne Anton announced Tuesday the expansion of a pilot program that started with a staff lawyer in Vancouver dedicated to legal aid clients with family law disputes. The second family court “duty counsel” will be based at the Justice Access Centre at the Victoria courthouse.

The program is funded with an extra $2 million a year for three years, bringing this year’s Legal Services Society budget to $74.5 million. This allows double the time for eligible clients to receive legal advice by phone on the Family LawLINE.

Legal Services Society board chair Tom Christensen said the phone service will now be able to offer up to six hours with the same lawyer, to get advice on issues such as child support and parenting arrangements so they can represent themselves in family court.

“There always going to be cases where the situation is so dire that we need to appoint a lawyer to assist somebody in court,” Christensen said. “And with family services, that’s generally where violence is threatened, or where somebody faces a serious chance of their interaction with their children being cut off, like when one parent’s going to leave the province with them, and the other parent needs to stop that.”

Anton said there are three more pilot projects to come. These are an expanded model for legal aid staff lawyers in criminal cases, a parents’ legal centre for child protection cases and a family mediation referral program.

The financing move comes as the Trial Lawyers’ Association of B.C. resumes its intermittent strike against legal aid work to protest the lack of funding. Lawyers are refusing legal aid for the first week of each month in a protest that began in July.

The association notes that 80 per cent of people in family court are not represented by a lawyer, and that the rate paid to legal aid lawyers hasn’t changed since the B.C. government cut the Legal Service Society budget by about 40 per cent between 2001 and 2005.

Anton said the overall speed of the court system is improving, and the newly expanded program is designed to settle more cases out of court.

“On a family matter in particular, court is not necessarily the final destination, not necessarily the best destination,” Anton said. “This is the emphasis of the new Family Law Act. We would rather parties settled the matter between themselves with the help of a mediator, with the help of our family justice mediation services, with the help of the Justice Access Centres.”

The Trial Lawyers’ Association points to the extension of provincial sales tax to legal services in the 1990s, to fund legal aid. They say only half of that tax revenue is used for legal aid, and the rate paid to lawyers hasn’t changed in a decade.

 

Just Posted

More B.C. ambulance service needed in the North: Hospital chief of staff

Fort St. James physicians talk about the need for easier access to healthcare

Broken axle caused New Hazelton train derailment: TSB

It could happen again without a different way to inspect trains

Cullen remains uncertain about political future

Says he’ll make decision in early March

Terrace resident’s bill banning single-use plastics introduced in Ottawa

MP Nathan Cullen’s presented Ben Korving’s private member’s bill Wednesday

B.C. BUDGET: Surplus $374 million after bailouts of BC Hydro, ICBC

Growth projected stronger in 2020, Finance Minister Carole James says

Fashion Fridays: Must have wardrobe basics

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

National Energy Board approves Trans Mountain pipeline again

Next step includes cabinet voting on the controversial expansion

Skier dies at Revelstoke Mountain Resort

Cause of death for young man has not been released

R. Kelly charged with 10 counts of sexual abuse

R&B star has been accused of sexual misconduct involving women and underage girls for years

More sailings coming to 10 BC Ferries’ routes

Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said the sailings were originally cut in 2014

Cryptocurrency exchange CEO who suddenly died leaves Kelowna house in will

Gerald Cotten, holding the keys to money tied up in his virtual currency exchange, died in December.

Regulator’s report, coming today, unlikely to settle Trans Mountain pipeline battle

The Trans Mountain pipeline will remain a controversial topic both in the political ring and out

Australian woman killed in avalanche at Whistler

The woman and her partner were reportedly rescued by ski patrol, but she did not survive

B.C. legislature moving suspended staff controversy to outside review

Whale watching, Seattle Mariners trips billed as emergency preparedness, Speaker Darryl Plecas says

Most Read