A Kamloops lawyer predicts an already delay-plagued courthouse will slow down in February and March due to a crisis in legal aid funding.
B.C.’s Legal Services Society, a non-profit group, is advising lawyers not to book any cases requiring legal aid funding in the final six weeks of the government’s fiscal year, mid-February through March of next year.
The society is facing a shortfall of several million dollars.
“The Trial Lawyers Association is recommending that we put in adjournment applications for any matters from the middle of February to the end of March,” said representative Graham Kay, who practices family and criminal law here.
“We’re saying ‘do it now’ because it gives the court plenty of notice. We need to be fair to everyone and say we need to adjourn these early.”
The shortfall also applies to family law, including child apprehension cases.
While the quick fix may put a bandage over legal aid, lawyers said it further risks delaying trials and may leave those facing jail without legal help.
Charges against three Lower Mainland hunters were dismissed this week by a Kamloops judge due to delays caused by lack of “institutional resources” — prosecutors and judges.
“This is something I can’t recall in 30 years of practice,” said defence lawyer Bill Sundhu, a former provincial court judge and prosecutor.
While lawyers are being advised to make adjournment applications, an official in the Kamloops courthouse said none have been made thus far.
Sundhu said the shortfall further exposes a long-term eroding of rights of accused people, many of whom are low-income.
“I see it affecting the poor,” said Sundhu. “We’re sending more and more people to prison. Yet we don’t have the legal aid resources to defend people.”
When it took power in 2001, the B.C. Liberal government slashed legal aid funding, placing severe restrictions on eligibility. Sundhu said it never recovered.
Ironically the shortfall in funding is caused by a ramping up of some resources, including judges and prosecutors. That’s speeding some trials and causing legal aid funding to be dried up before the fiscal year end.
Another city lawyer, Sheldon Tate, said lawyers will look to booking court time during that period for clients who pay their own legal fees.