A battle over legal aid funding puts some of Nanaimo's most vulnerable citizens at risk, says Nanaimo MLA Leonard Krog and Opposition critic for the Attorney General.
Legal-aid lawyers across B.C. could adjourn hundreds of trials, without a funding agreement with the government.
Withdrawal of service is a possibility, without an agreement between the Legal Services Society of B.C and the Attorney General.
In a brief issued in September, the society advised lawyers not to book criminal or child protection cases from Feb. 17 to March, 31, 2014.
The brief advised lawyers the society faces a $2.5-million shortfall in the criminal tariff and a $500,000 deficit in the child-protection tariff this year.
The end result for people caught in the legal system, from low-income parents in custody battles through victims of crime, is justice delays.
Experts say some cases could get thrown out.
"I can't say I'm thrilled with the prospect of further delays or withdrawal or delay of cases, but I understand completely why lawyers feel this way," Krog said.
"They see this as the only course they can take to get the government's attention."
The society has pressed to resolve the issue with the Ministry of Justice since May.
The Legal Services Society board met with Attorney General Suzanne Anton and her deputy ministers on Sept. 26 and again Monday.
The board continues to meet with the attorney general and a final decision about reducing services was expected to be made soon.
Meanwhile, lawyers plan their province-wide adjournment applications to protest years of underfunding. Serious cases will be adjourned, including sexual assault trials and murder trials, said Paul Pearson, co-chairman of the Canadian Bar Association's criminal justice section in Victoria.
"How do you explain that to a murder victim's family, that their trial is being adjourned because the government won't pay the bills?" said Pearson.
"No one likes the prospect of delaying trials. No one likes the idea of not working during that time period. No one is going to get paid. But the alternative is telling the government, 'If you
underfund legal aid, everyone will just work for free.' It's a totally unacceptable situation."
Krog said the situation affects all but the lowest income earners, and even children put in care, because parents aren't represented.
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