Legal aid in limbo as lawyers vote in favour of strike action

By Ian Holmes
March 14, 2019 - 1:08pm Updated: March 14, 2019 - 1:53pm

Lawyer Donald McKay estimated 10-to-15 legal aid lawyers in Nanaimo assist hundreds of clients locally every year.Ian Holmes/NanaimoNewsNOW

NANAIMO — Lawyers who represent the most vulnerable people around the province want a new verdict from the B.C. Government when it comes to legal aid.

Nearly 500 members of the Association of Legal Aid Lawyers (ALAL) voted an overwhelming 97 per cent in favour of imminent job action to back increased funding demands.

Victoria lawyer and association director Donald McKay told NanaimoNewsNOW support shown by the association in this week's vote underscores how dire the situation is.

“It really speaks to the issue of how motivated lawyers are to see legal aid funding improved in this province.”

McKay said the roughly 1,000 legal aid lawyers in B.C. will begin escalating strike action on April 1 if their concerns aren't addressed by the province.

He said fewer legal aid lawyers means less impoverished people are getting the help they need, while the threshold to get approved for the service rises.

“People with sometimes serious criminal charges are not able to get funding from legal aid because the Crown isn't necessarily seeking a jail sentence,” McKay said. “A criminal conviction can still have a significant impact on people and yet they're left without representation.”

McKay said the standard legal aid hourly rate is $84, far below their typical rate of $200 to $300, pointing out many lawyers have significant overhead costs which erode their fees.

“We want to see greater access to justice for people who are in need and we do want to see a raise in the tariff so the lawyers that are doing this work can be properly compensated.”

McKay said legal aid compensation rates rose once over the last 25-years, which has made the practice increasingly unsustainable.

In a brief statement to NanaimoNewsNOW the Ministry of the Attorney General said dialogue is ongoing with the association: "The ministry is continuing to have discussions with Association of Legal Aid Lawyers about their proposal."

 

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