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B.C.'s legal system gets funding boost

The NDP has earmarked $8.19 million to assist in access to justice throughout B.C., funds that will be split between legal aid, assisting youth and families, training young lawyers and ensuring expert witnesses are available for fair trials.
B.C.'s government says increased funding will assist access to justice in the province.

B.C.’s NDP government says it's boosting legal system funding by $8.19 million in order to assist in access to justice throughout the province

In 2021, the society received $100.1 million, up from $99.36 million the year before. The 2020 funding level was a significant jump from 2019’s $88.6 million, 2018’s $80.67 million and 2017’s $74.9 million.

Of the annual funding, $7.47 million is an increase to Legal Aid BC's budget to support lawyers delivering legal aid in the province.

The remaining $730,000 is earmarked for the Society for Children and Youth to fund the expansion of a legal clinic to meet growing demand for legal services for children and youth.

Between December 2019 and June 2021, the Ministry of Attorney General, the Association of Legal Aid Lawyers and Legal Aid BC worked to identify gaps in legal aid service delivery and various options for addressing them, the government said.

From the new funding, the government said $3.55 million will allow expanded and enhanced legal services. That means assigning junior counsel in all murder and manslaughter cases and in other identified cases to ensure a new generation of criminal defence lawyers is properly trained.

The money would also allow for pre-authorizing of a certain number of hours for expert witnesses in criminal cases to reduce the possibility of wrongful convictions because Crown expert evidence is not challenged.

It is also hoped the funds would enhance the Criminal Early Resolution Contract to provide legal representation to more clients whose matter was not able to be resolved out of court.

Families in distress and trying to navigate the court system are also in the government’s view with provision of stable, ongoing funding for the Family Limited Representation Contract.

Funds will also be earmarked to provide the Society for Children and Youth with funding to expand a legal clinic to meet the growing demand for legal services for children and youth and by providing access to more lawyers across the province.

In 2019, the province announced eight new legal clinics would open around B.C. as part of a $2-million investment to improve access to justice.

Each clinic was to receive up to $250,000 to hire lawyers and legal staff. Lawyers will offer legal advice on issues including poverty, housing, immigration and disability and act as counsel in legal proceedings at no cost to clients.

The remaining $4.65 million in the new funding is being provided to Legal Aid BC to support and expand the delivery of legal aid services by lawyers in the province.

The province has also been fast-tracking technological change in the courts as a result of having to operate in the COVID-19 pandemic with restrictions on in-person hearings and the need to continue to exchange and file legal documents.

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