British Columbia Attorney General David Eby asked members of the Law Society of B.C. to vote against a resolution that would see the benchers withdraw a request to have the Legal Profession Act changed to allow alternate legal service providers.
The resolution submitted to the 2018 annual general meeting agenda on Tuesday by Peter Leask and Karen Nordlinger directed the benchers to withdraw their application to the provincial government seeking legislative amendments to the Legal Profession Act to enable the LSBC to create, credential and regulate the new category of non-lawyers.
However, shortly into the meeting, when the membership was voting on the first resolution to install the auditor, the computers belonging to the organization that had been hired to tally the votes crashed. The Leask-Nordlinger resolution — Resolution No. 3 — was not voted upon.
Earlier Eby told members via the broadcast address from Victoria that he had asked to address the membership because the resolutions before them dealt with access to justice issues and his role was to ensure that access to justice was readily available to the public.
He says his government has been addressing the need to provide more access to legal services on several fronts. A total of $31 million has been allocated to initiatives relating to access to justice over the next three years as well as appointing more provincial court judges, hiring more registry and court staff, providing more sheriffs training and court services. A new courthouse in Abbotsford is also under construction. Government has also invested hundreds of millions in providing more mental health support and housing for the homeless to waylay upstream problems before they land in the justice system, Eby says.
But support of the legal profession is also needed.
"Government alone cannot solve the access to justice problem we face," he says.
Eby says he supports the LSBC's initiative to amend the Legal Profession Act to allow more legal professionals to provide access to justice, especially in the much-needed area of family law.
"We have several supportive issues underway," but additional resources are needed in areas where families are left wanting for needed legal support, he says.
"The law society will be able to fill the gaps in providing the services needed for families," says Eby, who then urged members to vote against the resolution before the AGM that would remove the ability of the law society to register and regulate legal service providers.
Eby says his government would work with the legal profession to support access to justice initiatives.
"Rest assured that your provincial government will work hard to ensure they are affordable and deliverable," he says.
An LSBC task force on alternate legal service providers issued in September a consultation paper entitled "Family Law Legal Service Providers" that looked at how the providers might be regulated and educated. The task force identified seven key areas where alternate legal service providers could impact access to justice needs with family law the first area it focused upon. The LSBC task force initially asked for feedback from the membership by Nov. 16, but on Oct. 25, after receiving a request from the Access to Justice BC Committee and others, it extended the deadline to Dec. 31.
The Leask-Nordlinger resolution states that "it is not in the public interest to have less qualified persons providing legal advice to members of the public facing family law issues" that can be complex and legally wide-ranging, have long-lasting financial implications on families and custody arrangements may have long-term impact on a child's emotional well-being.
LSBC president Miriam Kresivo told members shortly before Eby's address that there were 1,765 members and seven students registered to vote with approximately 1,400 online. As the first resolution vote started, the online voting was not able to be counted as the service provider's computer system crashed.
"We cannot disenfranchise 1,400 people," Kresivo says, adding another AGM meeting will be scheduled with a 21-day notice period given to members.