B.C. lawyers have given Christy Clark’s justice reform plan a skeptical response after the premier steered clear of an immediate cash infusion for the province’s justice system.
Last week, Clark appointed Geoff Cowper, a partner in Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP’s Vancouver office, to lead the review, with a mandate to study “systemic changes” aimed at achieving a more efficient, timely and fair justice system.
“Our reform initiative will identify long-term, fiscally responsible solutions that improve outcomes and accountability for the significant investments we’re already making,” Clark said in a statement announcing the review last week.
“They’re saying that they want to know why cases are taking longer when there’s less crime, and less cases coming through. Well, the fundamental answer is we have an improperly and inadequately funded justice system,” says Marc Kazimirski, the president of the Trial Lawyers’ Association of British Columbia.
He says B.C.’s legal aid system receives 30-per-cent less funding compared with other Canadian jurisdictions, helping increase the proportion of self-represented litigants using the courts. The TLABC is currently in the middle of a service-withdrawal campaign to highlight legal aid underfunding, with members refusing to perform duty counsel services for the first two weeks of February. The protest is scheduled to escalate next month with three weeks of withdrawals.
“If we provide proper legal aid funding and give proper access, these self-represented people can navigate the system much more quickly,” Kazimirski says.
And Sharon Matthews, president of the Canadian Bar Association’s B.C. branch, backs the TLABC approach.
“Immediate funding is needed to clear the court backlogs, which have been created by past underfunding. The best reforms in the world, implemented months from now, cannot fix today’s legal crisis and will not be effective until the backlogs are cleared,” she says. “Improved legal aid coverage will have an immediate positive effect on delays, especially coupled with the recent appointment of provincial court judges. Restored Crown counsel funding and court staffing levels are also critical.”
Links to B.C. Attorney General papers on the justice system review:
• Internal Audit review
• Green Paper