Jane Morley, QC discusses cuts and priorities
by Jane Morley, QC
On February 22, I was appointed Official Trustee for the Legal Services Society (LSS) by Order in Council to replace the Society’s Board of Directors. Under the Legal Services Society Act, my obligations are to ensure good governance of the Society, retire the debt, and ensure compliance with the Act.
With these responsibilities in mind, my first task was to pass a budget in response to the government’s legal aid cuts and its requirement that funds be used first for constitutionally required services, and next for family law services. Finalizing the budget was a matter of some urgency. For each month it delayed implementation, the Society would incur an additional $2 million in costs.
One result of the budget cuts was the need to reduce the executive management group. After eight years of dedicated and excellent service to LSS, Chief Executive Officer David Duncan will be leaving the Society. His wisdom will be greatly missed.
Faced with the important task of replacing David, I consulted with the remaining executive management team and widely with former LSS board members and chairs, former board tariff committee members and chairs, past and current officials of the Law Society of BC and the CBABC, and key members of the Association of Legal Aid Lawyers. My own impressions, and what I was told by those with whom I consulted, convinced me that Mark Benton, currently LSS Director of Tariff, was the right person for the job. Mark has the confidence of the executive management team. He is also widely respected outside LSS as not only highly competent, but as someone who can be a leader in refashioning the Society so it can effectively deliver legal aid in the future.
The government has said the mandate under the Legal Services Society Act will be amended this spring. Once that is done, there will be a number of changes to legal aid coverage.
Constitutionally required representation in criminal, mental health, and child protection cases will continue. Regrettably, however, poverty law representation and advice will be eliminated, leaving only legal information services in this area.
In family cases, coverage will be available for victims of domestic violence to apply for the necessary restraining order and to pursue additional Family Relations Act or Divorce Act interim relief, including custody, access, child and spousal support, and orders restraining the disposition of property. Emergency referrals also will cover non-removal orders necessary to prevent an applicant’s children from being permanently moved from BC, and maintenance enforcement committal or contempt proceedings for respondents who face a likelihood of imprisonment.
The government last month provided LSS with an additional $4 million for 2002/2003. My priority is to use this for family cases already in the system and to introduce family initiatives to provide limited legal services to eligible family applicants.
Constitutionally required representation in immigration cases will continue for now. The provincial government is taking the position that the federal government should be responsible for funding immigration services. If this position is sustained, a further $5 million of provincial legal aid funds could be earmarked for family services. LSS plans to consult stakeholders about how to use these additional funds most effectively.
My term is for one year. I expect to be replaced by a new board before then. While I am trustee, I am committed to beginning the renewal process to fashion a Society that, together with other stakeholders in the justice system, will work to maximize access to justice for those who are economically and otherwise disadvantaged. I look forward to consulting with the Bar as part of that process.
Jane Morley, QC is the Official Trustee for the Legal Services Society.
This article was published in the April 2002 issue of BarTalk. © 2002 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.