Lack of funding prompts B.C.'s legal-aid lawyers to plan service withdrawal

British Columbia's legal-aid lawyers have voted overwhelmingly to start withdrawing their services next month over lack of funding.

The Association of Legal Aid Lawyers says 97 per cent of 590 members voted for job action to limit or suspend legal aid starting April 1.

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Prince George lawyer and ALL director Liam Cooper said lawyers in this region will participate, starting with a refusal to take on new clients and new charges for clients already under contract.

Members could also make their presence known by handing out information to those interested in front of the courthouse, but there will be no picket lines, Cooper said.

"We're not going to shame or chastise anyone (from going into the courthouse)," he said.

A news release from the ALL says the only pay increase legal-aid lawyers have received in 28 years was in 2006 when their hourly rate was boosted by 10 per cent.

The lawyers group also says the average spent per person on legal aid in 1993 was $25.22 and, accounting for inflation, should now amount to about $40.

Instead, data shows 2018 per-capita spending on legal aid has fallen to just under $15, ranking B.C. 10th out of 12 provinces and territories.

Legal-aid lawyers say the funding cut requires immediate government attention.

"As a result of these cuts, vulnerable and marginalized British Columbians are not receiving the legal help they need. Too many people facing difficult family, child protection, immigration and criminal law problems are having to go to court alone," says the release.

The near-unanimous vote underscores that "lawyers cannot continue doing this extremely difficult work under current conditions."

The association calls the result "an overwhelming endorsement" from B.C.'s family, criminal, child protection and immigration legal-aid lawyers.

- with files from Mark Nielsen, Citizen

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