The legal profession responds
by Carman Overholt
There is no question: this has been a challenging time for the legal profession. We have been faced with justice system budget cuts, deeply affecting the principle of equal access to justice in BC. The Bar has responded with passion and outrage, seeking every means possible to oppose and mitigate the Attorney General Ministry’s Service Plan developed without consultation with the lawyers and judges of BC.
The Canadian Bar Association has vigorously and consistently opposed the cuts to legal aid and courthouses. We are fighting this battle on many fronts:
In the Media
We have communicated the concerns of the Bar through all available print and electronic media. The editorial boards of The Vancouver Sun, Times-Colonist and other papers around the province have responded with commentary on the consequences of imposing a 40 per cent cut to legal aid and closing one?third of the fully staffed courthouses in the province. The public has responded with letters of support to the Bar, and letters of concern and opposition to the government.
Directly With Government
I commend the Benchers of the Law Society for initiating the Justice Review Process that has led to meaningful and constructive dialogue between the Attorney General, the judiciary, the Bar and the Law Society. It is in the finest traditions of our profession to seek resolution and to mitigate loss. Although the CBA was not initially involved in the Justice Review Process, we were invited to participate as a result of the decision by CBABC Provincial Council to engage in a review with the government to mitigate the harm of cuts to legal aid and courthouse closures. It is important for the Bar to participate fully in any review of the justice system, and the current process ensures that we are represented. Richard Margetts, QC, former President of the Law Society, is chairing the Committee. Peter Leask, QC, a member of the CBA National Legal Aid Committee, is representing the CBABC.
With Our Justice System Partners
We are very proud to be working with an exceptional group of justice system partners. The Law Society and Chief Judge Baird Ellan have worked to vigorously to protect the public interest and judicial independence. Chief Justice Brenner has contributed his exceptional mediation and administrative skills to the Justice Review process. The CBABC Poverty Law Section and the BC Associations of Community Law Offices and Native Community Law Offices are working tirelessly to convey the urgent consequences of cutting off thousands of impoverished British Columbians from access to legal advocacy. The leadership of the Legal Services Society is seeking, albeit under very difficult conditions, to plan for the future rather than have it planned for them.
Many other groups and individuals are also contributing to the effort to improve access to justice in the future. One of our respected volunteers, Marvin Storrow, QC initiated a letter signed by himself and many other senior and distinguished members of the Bar calling on the Attorney General to reconsider the drastic cuts to legal aid. Peter Leask, QC has devoted countless hours to the Justice Review Process. On the government side, Deputy Attorney General Gillian Wallace and Assistant Deputy Minister Jerry McHale have worked to open up a dialogue between the Bar, judiciary and government.
There is an immense pool of talent, skill, brain power and commitment in the legal profession. I believe we have the ability and will to move forward constructively, working together, with purpose, with dignity and with honour, in the name of protecting and improving justice in BC.
This article was published in the June 2002 issue of BarTalk. © 2002 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.