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

Study projects First Nations’ intake of essential nutrients will decrease by 31 per cent

Professors project the nutrient decrease by 2050 if climate change mitigation continues as-is

Bella Coola Harbour to receive federal funding

The amount of funding has not been announced yet

WANTED: Five sought by RCMP

Police asking for public’s assistance finding five people on outstanding warrants.

Carey Price breaks Canadiens goalie record with 315 wins

Habs netminder surpasses Jacques Plante’s record for most wins

Carey Price breaks Canadiens goalie record with 315 win

Habs netminder surpasses Jacques Plante’s record for most wins

Defiant vigil starts healing in New Zealand after massacre

Police say the gunman in the shooting that killed 50 acted alone

Facebook announces changes to political advertising to meet new federal rules

Bill C-76 bans the use of money from foreign entities to conduct partisan campaigns

National Arts Centre spotlights Indigenous and female artists in upcoming season

Other musical offerings include a salute to Canada’s Indigenous composers

Travel expected to be slowed by fallout from fire at Toronto’s Pearson airport

All U.S.-bound flights from Terminal 1 were cancelled Sunday night after the fire broke out near a security checkpoint

Trudeau fills vacancy in cabinet with B.C. MP Joyce Murray

Murray, 64, was elected in 2008 and served previously as a minister in B.C.’s provincial government

Leivo nets shootout winner as Canucks edge Stars 3-2

Schaller scores first 2 goals of season for Vancouver

UBC study shows honey bees can help monitor pollution in cities

Scientists analyzed beehives in high density urban areas to those off on Galiano Island

Most Read