Low-income British Columbians in need of legal services could find themselves in trouble next month.
This, after the association that represents the province’s legal-aid lawyers voted overwhelmingly to begin job action on April 1.
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In a March 11-13 vote, 97 per cent of the 590-member Association of Legal Aid Lawyers (ALL) agreed to limiting or suspending legal-aid services.
According to the association, per-capital provincial spending has dropped from $25.22 in 1992/1993 to $14.99 in 2017/2018.
The association says if per-capita funding had kept up with inflation, it would actually be $39.72.
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“In real terms, this represents a 60 per cent decrease from 1992/1993 levels. British Columbia ranks 10th out of 12 provinces and territories in per-capita legal-aid funding,” said the group in a media release.
“As a result of these cuts, vulnerable and marginalized British Columbians are not receiving the legal help they need. Too many people facing difficult family, child-protection, immigration and criminal law problems are having to go to court alone.”
The association also argues legal-aid lawyers have had just one raise in 28 years, and that it is having a hard time retaining staff. In 1991, there were 1,500 legal-aid lawyers in B.C., a number that has shrunk to just 1,000, the association says.
The Ministry of the Attorney General said it remains in discussions with the ALL.
In its 2018 budget, the NDP government added $26 million over three years to the Legal Services Society to expand the provision of legal-aid delivery.
The ministry calls that the largest expansion in funding since 2002, when the former BC Liberal government cut legal aid by 40 per cent.