A solution to the legal aid funding crisis is in the works, averting lawyers' threat of service withdrawal, says Attorney General Suzanne Anton. Legal Services Society board chairman Tom Christensen and Mark Benton, LSS CEO emerged from a meeting with Anton on Friday saying the need no longer exists to decline to book hearing dates for legal aid work from Feb. 17 to March 31.
Lawyers who provide legal aid were recently told to do that, due to the funding deadlock.
In a brief to members, Benton said talks with Anton gave the assurance "LSS will be able to pay accounts for all existing referrals to the end of the fiscal year," although he said the society is still concerned about "a significant cost pressure" for criminal services.
Last week Nanaimo MLA and Opposition Attorney General critic Leonard Krog said the funding crisis carries a risk for the most vulnerable in society, when they need legal representation but can't afford it. Anton said legal aid is secure, and that a final agreement will come soon.
She said it is actually a good news story. Lawyers blamed underfunding for the problem, but Anton said justice reform is the cause.
"Pressure comes from the fact cases are moving more quickly through the system, so lawyers' bills are presented more quickly," Anton said "There is a one-time funding crunch."
Anton is confident a satisfactory agreement will be reached soon.
"We're still in discussions," Anton said. "Everybody in government is sharpening their pencils (and) we're asking them to sharpen their pencils as well... I expect I'll have an announcement fairly soon on that."
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