13 January 2009

Bad News for Legal Aid

The CBC has reported that the Legal Services Society is in dire financial straits and will be slashing the funding provided for family law and criminal cases, cutting 38 staff positions including lawyer positions, and closing the Vancouver family law clinic.

This is really quite tragic, as it seems that LSS was only just beginning to recover from the devastating budget cuts imposed by Gordon Campbell's government in 2002 which saw the entire board of LSS resign in protest. Over the last few years, LSS had begun to set up new community clinics, like the one being closed, establish a new family law duty counsel program and a special website devoted to family law issues, as well as training outreach workers and community advocates across the province on family law issues and procedures.

You should expect that the axe will fall heaviest on LSS's family law programs today as it did in 2002, as the provincial government has a cost-sharing arrangement with the federal government on funding legal aid for criminal matters - in part resulting from the federal government's constitutional obligations - which is not matched in family law matters.

Update: 14 January 2009

LSS posted a news release on the situation late yesterday which gives some more details about the nature of the cutbacks. Here are the highlights from a family law perspective:
  • referrals for mediation are being eliminated and extended services will be scaled back beginning on 31 March 2009
  • duty counsel services will be "reduced" at "some courthouses" at some point
  • 16% of Lower Mainland staff will be cut, which will result in fewer LawLINE staff and fewer staff lawyers, and the reduction of LawLINE servicefurther changes will be announced in the summer
Further changes will be announced in the summer.