Legal aid: horrendously underfunded

This week, I am writing about legal aid.

Yes, I’ve written about it before: Politics and Legal Aid in BC. But, it’s a crucial topic, so I am going to discuss it, again.

To start, legal aid is a vital program for our province. It’s VITAL.

But, despite it being so vital, very few people know much about it (until they need it, of course).

So, what is it?

Well, it’s a program that allows poor families and people to have a lawyer when they really, really need it. That’s basically it.

The legal system is complicated. And, lawyers can be expensive. And, unlike doctors, the client (and not the government) typically pays the lawyer fees.

So, that’s why legal aid is important: it’s a safety net, designed to catch people who genuinely need a lawyer, but who can’t afford legal fees.

So, what’s the status of legal aid in BC? Well, as you may be able to guess from my tone, it isn’t good...

At present, legal aid services are only provided to people who may go to jail or be deported from Canada or to people who are involved in a family dispute that involves violence, abuse, or a custody dispute (for children). AND, in order to qualify for legal aid, you must earn very little money.

So, that’s it. Doesn’t seem like much, right? Well, it isn’t... Legal aid is horrendously underfunded.

You may ask, “So, what is happening with legal aid going forward?” Answer: it’s getting worse.

Legal aid in BC is facing a big budget shortfall, which means that the legal aid program is going to have cut even more services. And, who does that hurt? You guessed it: poor families.

It is very sad. But, it isn’t THAT surprising because the BC Liberals have NOT been reprimanded for all their budget cuts to legal aid (and to the court system, generally).

Here’s some history...

After the BC Liberals took office in 2001, they slashed legal aid’s funding almost in half. And, with the cuts, many family law services and poverty law services (previously provided to poor families) were completely eliminated. In effect, a lot of poor families were ‘left on their own’.

In 2011, a report was given to the Liberals, recommending that legal aid be recognized as an essential public service. The report called for stable funding. The report was ignored.

Then, there was the 18 month job action by legal aid lawyers that was supposed to draw public attention to poor legal aid funding. But, that ended (and failed) recently.

And, what’s legal aid doing now? It’s asking the government for more money. And, what has the government said in response? Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said that she would be happy to discuss the issue, but that the province is already being generous. Generous?!

Our court system is crying out for adequate funding!

So here’s my advice: stop listening to the government’s propaganda regarding our justice system.

We have one of the best legal systems in the world. But, without money to fund it, it will crumble.


**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.

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About the Author

Jeff Zilkowsky is a lawyer practicing at MacLean Law in the Lower Mainland and in Kelowna, and focuses his practice on family law and litigation.  

In his column, Jeff provides information about current legal events or points of interest or concern relating to the law. 

The information contained in Jeff’s column should not be used or relied upon as legal advice.

Comments are always appreciated and encouraged, so don’t hesitate to email Jeff at [email protected]

Visit Jeff’s website at www.jeffzilkowsky.com or visit the website of MacLean Law.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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