The provincial government is investing another $8.19 million in legal aid in British Columbia, filling what it says are gaps in service.
The Ministry of the Attorney General announced the funding follows analysis of the legal-aid system between December 2019 and June 2021 by the ministry, Legal Aid BC and the Association of Legal Aid Lawyers.
The money was set aside in Budget 2022, and much of the funding, $7.47 million, is an increase to the budget for Legal Aid BC to support lawyers delivering legal help in the province.
The ministry said on Tuesday that $3.55 million of that funding will be used to ensure junior counsel are assigned in all murder and manslaughter cases, to provide a certain number of hours for expert witnesses in criminal cases and to support families trying to navigate the court system.
Money will also be used to add to the criminal early resolution contract, providing legal help to more clients whose cases weren’t able to be resolved outside the courts.
The remaining $730,000 will go to the Society for Children and Youth to expand a legal clinic and meet the growing demand for legal services for children and youth.
Michael Klein, a criminal lawyer and director of the Criminal Defence Advocacy Society in B.C., said he thinks the added funding will be beneficial to the criminal justice system.
“There are still lots of people that navigate the system on their own, and when you have unrepresented people, often that can slow and create inefficiencies in the system. So, it’s a useful tool for the administration of justice to have funded lawyers looking after people’s interests,” he said.
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Klein said he’s also hopeful this will entice more young professionals into law in B.C.
“There are not a lot of young lawyers coming up (through Legal Aid BC) because it’s just not lucrative enough, and we live in very expensive times,” he said.
“There is some funding allocation to have junior counsel on very serious offences, which is important. It will give some mentorship to younger counsel, so that people can advance their careers and become senior counsel with experience, which is a very important aspect to the proper administration of justice.”
Lisa Hamilton, president of the Law Society of BC, said her organization has been recommending the province expand the scope of legal-aid services during budget consultations for several years.
“The funding announcement shows that the provincial government appreciates the concerns we’ve been raising,” she said.
Hamilton said those who benefit most from the funding increase are often marginalized or are in at-risk populations, so even a little legal help at an early stage can solve issues and allow people to get on with their lives.