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Judges and lawyers push for better access to BC justice system

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VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) – As the old saying goes, “justice delayed is justice denied.”

Those words are being invoked by many of BC’s judges and lawyers who are demanding the provincial government fix a troubled legal system.

In a report entitled “An Agenda for Justice,” the Canadian Bar Association’s BC branch is making wide-ranging recommendations it would like to see made provincial election issues ahead of the May the vote.

The association is concerned about access to the justice system, pointing to struggles with long case delays and an overstretched legal aid system.

“Legal aid funding is so limited that in Provincial Court, approximately 40 per cent of British Columbians are unrepresented by a lawyer in family court cases and 20 per cent are unrepresented in criminal cases,” states the report.

“The impact is that, through no fault of their own, people who are unrepresented take up more court time and more taxpayer-funded resources to go through the system.”

Among other recommendations, the Bar Association suggests increasing funding for legal aid lawyers from $84 an hour to $135.

“Current rates, which have been increased just once since 1991, do not provide adequate compensation for the services needed to assist the low-income people who qualify for legal aid. They are less than the cost of most lawyers’ hourly overhead. As a result, the number of lawyers in BC who are prepared to take on legal aid cases has dwindled as they cannot afford to act.”

The report concludes, “the Government of British Columbia and Members of the Legislative Assembly have the opportunity — every day — to improve the lives of British Columbians by taking steps to ensure they have access to justice that is delivered in a timely manner, by courts supported by up-to-date legislation and technology, and with a studied interest in their needs and challenges.”