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.

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

QUIZ: How much do you know about British Columbia?

On this B.C. Day long weekend, put your knowledge of our province to the test

Smoke seen over northern B.C. from wildfires in the U.S. and Siberia

Smoke was seen over Vanderhoof, Fort St. James and Prince George on Friday, July 31.

Vanderhoof RCMP urging residents to follow speed limits in the district

Staff Sgt. Laurie Clarkson said the detachment has received multiple calls for speeding

Northern B.C. SAR groups ‘rope rescue’ hiker near Fort Fraser

Volunteers from both Vanderhoof and Prince George helped in the rescue.

Vanderhoof Public Works update for July

Here is a list of completed and ongoing scheduled projects in the district

VIDEO: Otter pups learn to swim at B.C. wildlife rescue facility

Watch Critter Care’s Nathan Wagstaffe help seven young otters go for their first dip

Michael Buble among 13 British Columbians to receive Order of B.C.

Ceremony will be delayed to 2021 due to COVID-19

U.S. border communities feel loss of Canadian tourists, shoppers and friends

Restrictions on non-essential travel across the Canada-U.S. border have been in place since March 2`

Rollout of COVID-19 Alert app faces criticism over accessibility

App requires users to have Apple or Android phones made in the last five years, and a relatively new operating system

Alleged impaired driver sparks small wildfire near Lytton after crash: B.C. RCMP

Good Samaritans prevented the blaze from getting out of control

B.C. First Nation adopts ‘digital twinning’ software to better manage territory

Software allows users to visualize what a mountain might look like if the trees on its slopes were logged

All inquiry recommendations implemented after fatal Port Hardy RCMP shooting: Ministry

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. cleared the RCMP officers involved of wrongdoing

Leave your deets when dining: Restaurants taking personal info to trace COVID-19

Health officials say indoor dining presents a higher risk

Most Read