CBA Condemns BC Decision to Slash Legal Aid
“Devastating” cuts to legal aid funding in BC will cause unprecedented damage to access to justice, warned the National President of the CBA. “Nowhere in the country have we seen such a devastating attack on the public’s fundamental right to access the justice system,” said Eric Rice, QC, of Vancouver, January 18, 2002.
In a press release to national media, Mr. Rice responded to the BC government’s decision to cut legal aid funding announced the day before. “Those in smaller communities, and those who desperately need legal help in family disputes, will be hardest hit.”
Funding will be slashed from $88.3 million to $54 million – a 40 per cent reduction over three years. Twenty-four courthouses will close. “British Columbians across the province will feel these cuts immediately.”
“These cuts place impossible burdens on prosecutors and judges in terms of caseloads and dealing with unrepresented litigants,” he added. “Many more criminal charges will also have to be thrown out of court because of the inevitable delays.”
The CBA has been lobbying federal and provincial governments for many years to increase legal aid funding in Canada. “This latest action by the BC government flies in the face of everything we should be trying to accomplish to ensure that Canadians can actually exercise their legal rights,” said Mr. Rice.
Call for Nominations to Standing Committees
The CBA is seeking candidates for its National Standing Committees for 2002-2003. All CBA members are eligible to apply for positions on the following committees:
- Continuing Legal Education
- Ethics and Professional Issues
- International Development
- Judicial Compensation & Benefits
- Legal Aid Liaison
- Legislation and Law Reform
- Resolutions, Constitution and Bylaws
- Supreme Court of Canada Liaison
For information and an application form, contact Joanna Federici at the BC Branch. The deadline for applications is noon on Monday, April 15, 2002.
CBA National CLE Goes Online
The CBA, in conjunction with The Learning Library, is now offering an exciting e-learning solution to help you tackle your critical training needs any time, from anywhere, and at highly competitive rates. Browse through the ever-growing library of comprehensive, user-friendly courses on the CBA/Learning Library Web site (www.cba.org) today.
Wrongful Conviction Amendments Insufficient
The Canadian Bar Association’s National Criminal Justice Section says that amendments to the Criminal Code in Bill C-15A, aimed at improving the review process for wrongful convictions, don’t go far enough to remedy a seriously flawed situation.
“We have seen too many cases of wrongful convictions, including Marshall, Milgaard, Morin, and most recently Sophonow. The proposed amendments in Bill C-15A will do little to improve the current situation,” says Allan Manson, Chair of the CBA’s Committee on Imprisonment and Release.
In an extensive submission to the Minister of Justice on reform of the Section 690 review process in 1999, the CBA recommended that the whole process be scrapped and replaced with an independent wrongful conviction review board. “We are very disappointed that our earlier recommendation has not been included in the amendments. In our view, any mechanism to assess whether a wrongful conviction has occurred must be completely independent of the people and systems that brought about the initial conviction.”
In a letter presented to the Chair of the Senate Committee on Legal & Constitutional Affairs in December, the CBA also urged the government to leave the preliminary inquiry intact. “We oppose any dismantling of the preliminary inquiry and adamantly oppose its abolition,” says Heather Perkins-McVey, Chair of the CBA’s National Criminal Justice Section. “We are concerned that the proposed amendment shifts the burden on the accused to request a preliminary inquiry, rather than being entitled to one by right.”
The CBA generally favours the proposals contained in Bill C-15A to protect children from exploitation, particularly sexual exploitation. “These particular amendments represent a careful and measured response to a very complex area of law, morality and human behaviour,” says Heather Perkins-McVey.
Heather Perkins-McVey presented the CBA views to the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in December. Copies of the letter are available at www.cba.org.
These articles were published in the February 2002 issue of BarTalk. © 2002 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.