British Columbia: Chief Judge says Lower Legal Rates or Give Up Monopoly; Legal Aid Commission Report Makes Innovative Suggestions

As reported in the Vancouver Sun the Chief Judge of the British Columbia Court of Appeals:

“has suggested lawyers either significantly lower their fees — now averaging about $340 an hour — or agree to give up their monopolistic hold on legal services.

Paralegals and others could do some of the donkey work presently done by high-priced talent.”

Other suggestions in the speech include treating legal aid as an essential public service:

In Justice Finch’s opinion, Doust [author of a recent report by the Public Commission on Legal Aid] in his report makes a compelling case for treating legal aid as an essential public service:

“In a society governed by the rule of law, access to legal advice and representation is at least as important as access to an education and to health care. He has, I believe, challenged the profession to make that case to the public, and to our policy-makers. However, we know we are not yet there and have a long way to go.”

The Legal Aid Commission Report is very interesting in its own terms.  Its Recommendations are as follows, and are very innovative.  I hope that the LSC strategic planning process takes a good look:

  • Recognize legal aid as an essential public service
  • Develop a new approach to define core services and priorities
  • Modernize and expand financial eligibility
  • Establish regional legal aid centres and innovative service delivery
  • Expand public engagement and political dialogue
  • Increase long-term, stable funding
  • The legal aid system must be proactive, dynamic, and strategic
  • There must be greater collaboration between public and private legal aid service providers
  • Provide more support to legal aid providers

The delivery system recommendations are particulalry interesting:

1.    Establishment of Regional Legal Aid Centres across the province to serve as the point of entry hub of legal aid service delivery for all core services to facilitate early intervention in resolving legal problems;
2.    Mobile outreach services to individuals who cannot access the Centres due to geo- graphic, cultural and/or other barriers;
3.    Enhanced team approach to the delivery of legal aid services with greater empha- sis on the role of community advocates and legal advocates acting with adequate support, training and supervision by lawyers;
4.    Gradual expansion of the role of duty counsel and staff lawyers where monitoring and evaluation demonstrate the effectiveness of these modes of service delivery in meeting client needs;
5.    Greater integration of legal aid services with other support services to meet client needs in a more holistic manner;
6.    Enhanced case management of large criminal cases and in other situations, where warranted;
7.    Targeted strategies to meet the needs of under-served communities including Aboriginal communities, women leaving abusive relationships, individuals with mental or cognitive disabilities, migrant workers and the elderly;
8.    Re-establishment and expansion of LawLINE; and
9.    Cautious expansion of information technology in delivering legal aid services bear- ing in mind the proven barriers to accessing and using legal information, particu- larly by the most disadvantaged.

The full report is here.

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About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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