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

Construction begins on Hwy 3A outside Keremeos

Portion of road will be reduced to single lane alternating traffic until Nov. 30

Save the date for Light Up weekend in Keremeos

12 Days of Christmas is the theme of this year’s Light Up in Keremeos

Fundraiser set for 15-year-old Keremeos girl injured in collision

A fundraiser is being held at the Branding Iron on December 1 for Keirsten Haynes

Rural recreation tax, priority for Penticton

Three Penticton regional district reps want a way to tax rural areas for recreation services

B.C. couple helping wildfire evacuees in northern California

A planned holiday has turned into a humanitarian effort for a Penticton couple

REPLAY: B.C’s best video this week

In case you missed it, here’s a look at the replay-worth highlights from this week across the province

NEB approves operating pressure increase to repaired Enbridge pipeline

The pipeline burst outside of Prince George on Oct. 9, now operating at 85 per cent

B.C. VIEWS: Setting speed limits in a post-fact environment

Media prefer ‘speed kills’ narrative, even when it fails to appear

Controversy erupts over Japanese flag in B.C. classroom

Online petition demanding removal has collected more than 5,700 signatures

Death toll rises to 76 in California fire with winds ahead

Nearly 1,300 people remain unaccounted for more than a week after the fire began

Trump says report on Khashoggi death expected in a few days

Jamal Khashoggi was a columnist for The Washington Post who was slain Oct. 2 inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul

CUPW requests mediator as deadline for Canada Post offer expires without deal

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weighed in Saturday night with a last-minute plea to the two sides

Trudeau says he won’t negotiate in public on future of LGBTQ rights in USMCA

Legislators urged Trump not to sign the agreement unless the language was removed.

Price makes 36 saves as Habs edge Canucks 3-2

Late goal lifts Montreal past Vancouver

Most Read