Provincial budget delivers welcome news
On February 20, 2018, the provincial government announced a $26 million investment in legal aid over three years. In 2018/19, the Legal Services Society (LSS) will receive over 12 million in extra funding.
This is the largest funding increase for legal aid since 2002 and is nearly a 12 percent lift over last year. It is a clear indication that government values the work undertaken by LSS and is a positive step toward improving the services British Columbians count on.
While LSS’s budget has yet to be approved by the Ministry of Attorney General, but we anticipate that it will include:
- A $4.7 million increase for expansion of our core family and child protection services
- A $3.8 million increase for expansion of our justice transformation initiatives (particularly the Parents Legal Centre)
- Plus a $4.3 million increase for criminal legal aid through the federal-provincial cost sharing agreement.
The new funding will allow us to improve access to justice for Indigenous peoples and to better meet the legal needs of low-income families. It will also allow LSS to offer a wider range of services to low-income British Columbians and to provide more support for the lawyers who serve legal aid clients.
Details are still being finalized, but some of the many expected enhancements include:
- reinstating discretionary family law services that were eliminated in 2017
- providing legal representation for extended families in child protection cases
- additional hours to compensate lawyers for dealing with the many challenges legal aid clients present
- additional hours for Gladue submissions in criminal cases
- opening new Parents Legal Centres in several locations around the province as recommend by Grand Chief Ed John in his report on Indigenous child welfare
In balancing service demands with our fiscal capacity LSS determined that expanding client services and increasing the number of hours available to lawyers should be our first priority to recognize the important work of our lawyers. We believe that by working with government we can continue to make progress on other outstanding issues.
While some changes can be made immediately, many will not be in place until the fall.
We are grateful to the Attorney General for his support for legal aid.