'A rights-based system makes sense, because it removes politics from the justice system.' - Darryl Walker.
Vancouver (11 Nov. 2010) - A report on the state of B.C.’s legal aid system shows that government funding cuts and re-organization have severely eroded access to the justice system, says the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU/NUPGE).
The union says the report supports its call for full restoration of legal aid funding in the province.
"Access to justice is one of the fundamental rights we enjoy as Canadians but successive cuts to legal aid services and staff mean fewer British Columbians can exercise those rights," says BCGEU President Darryl Walker. "This report clearly shows how difficult it is for lower-income British Columbians to access our justice system."
The report, Rights-Based Legal Aid: Rebuiliding BC’s Broken System, produced by the West Coast Legal Education and Action Fund and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, shows that the number of family law referral cases, not including mandated child apprehension referrals, has been cut by 75% by the Campbell Liberal government since 2001.
Immigration law referrals have been reduced 59% while poverty law referrals were eliminated as part of legal service funding cuts.
The report also exposes the false economy of cutting legal aid services, citing B.C. Supreme Court data showing that cases involving self-represented litigants go to trial more than twice as often as cases in which both parties are represented.
A U.K. study shows that unresolved legal problems increase social problems and their related costs. A Texas study shows that $7.42 in economic activity is generated for every dollar spent on legal aid services.
“Legal rights are worthless without a way to enforce them,” says Walker. “A rights-based system makes sense, because it removes politics from the justice system and ensures that all British Columbians have access to a basic level of legal services.”
Despite increased demand for legal aid services, the provincial grant to the Legal Services Society was cut by $2 million last year with another $1 million cut scheduled for 2010/2011. Since 2001, the province has closed 44 legal aid offices, laid off 297 staff, severely restricted eligibility for legal aid services and eliminated all poverty law services for low-income residents.
The BCGEU represents most of the 145 remaining workers at the Legal Services Society of B.C.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE
• Rights-Based Legal Aid: Rebuiliding B.C.’s Broken System