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BC legal aid blackout begins today

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – Lawyers in BC want to help you get more access to the courts, but they’re doing it by withdrawing some of their services.

Today is the first day of a legal aid blackout, which means lawyers won’t take on any clients, regardless of the need.

Their fight is over a lack of access to justice for people who can’t qualify for legal aid and can’t afford to pay for a lawyer themselves, according to Bentley Doyle with the Trial Lawyers Association of BC.

“The problem is the government in British Columbia is receiving more than $145 million in tax on legal services. So that means individual citizens are supplying the government with $145 million because anytime they’ve used legal services, their lawyers have been forced to bill them an extra seven per cent in provincial tax that goes to the government, and the government takes it into general revenue.”

Doyle says the Legal Services Society, which administers legal aid, is funded at about half of the amount.

“So, you’ve got double the money taken in compared to what is actually put into legal aid and the legal profession is the only profession targeted that way; they’re the only profession that has a tax on its services like that.”

Doyle adds it would make sense if that tax money was going into legal aid.

He says 20 years ago, a lot more people could use legal aid to get services. Now, he tells us it’s far tougher to qualify and there are fewer services covered.

“In criminal law matters, you could be facing significant charges and you might not get a lawyer.  If you’re facing jail time, you’re still going to get a lawyer. But in many other cases, it could be marks that would follow you for the rest of your life; you could be stumbling through the court system on your own.”

Doyle says in family law, more than two thirds are being denied legal aid and that leads to some representing themselves in court.

The legal aid blackout will last one week.