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BC's legal aid system faces big case delays

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – Poor families and kids will take the brunt of funding woes experienced by Legal Aid BC.

Lawyers for the government-funded agency have been told not to book any trials for the early part of 2014.

It specifically impacts criminal and child protection cases.

“That whole body of cases are going to be delayed to a later day and certainly that can have an impact on many different parties involved in the proceedings,” explains News1130 Legal Analyst Michael Shapray.

In a note to its lawyers, the Legal Service Society says it’s facing a $2.5 million deficit in the criminal tariff and a $500,000 deficit in the child protection tariff.

It says this year there’s been a 12 per cent increase in referrals for child protection cases.  While they haven’t had more criminal cases, costs have gone up due to external factors such as legislative changes.

“People who want to have their day in court or child protection cases that are waiting to be heard simply won’t get heard, there will be a delay in justice, there will be witnesses who will be set to testify in criminal cases,” says Shapray.

The statement reads:

“The problem we face is not about our ability to pay lawyers. We have the resources to do that and the society will continue to pay lawyers’ accounts in the normal course. The difficulty is that we have a statutory obligation to balance or service costs to our revenue, so this requires us, if necessary, to restrict the services we deliver in the fiscal year to the funding available.”

The province has been under fire for not committing to further funding. The LSS says it will continue to try and work with the Ministry of Justice to try and find an alternative way.