New funding, new services
The Legal Services Society (LSS) has made a lot of headway turning additional funding from the provincial government into more legal aid services for British Columbians.
LSS received an extra $12 million from the Ministry of Attorney General in February 2018. With this new money, LSS has focused on services for people facing family law and child protection law issues, and improving access to justice for Indigenous people.
More family law help
LSS is now able to take a more generous approach when determining if someone is financially eligible for family law services. This means people who might not have been able to receive help in the past may now be able to get a free lawyer to represent them.
LSS is also providing lawyers with more hours to help clients whose family legal issue requires more time to resolve than originally thought. This will bring more cases to a stable resolution.
For people who need brief family law advice, LSS has increased the availability of family duty counsel in high demand courthouses.
Child protection services with a difference
LSS is getting closer to opening up seven new Parents Legal Centres (PLCs), which provide help when a family is facing the possible government removal of their child from the home.
In November 2018, centres are expected to open in Prince George, Campbell River, Smithers, and Duncan. In 2019, PLCs will open in Williams Lake, Kamloops and Victoria. There are currently centres in Vancouver and Surrey.
The centres provide families with a supportive team that helps them to resolve not only their legal matter but also the underlying non-legal issues, such as housing or addictions, which often lead to protection concerns in the first place.
Other child protection services include paying for lawyers to attend family case planning conferences with their legal aid clients at court locations in Vancouver, Colwood (near Victoria) and Duncan. The collaborative process of family case planning conferences on court days helps the people involved in child protection to discuss issues coming up such as access to a child or alternative caregivers.
Legal aid for Indigenous clients
The Legal Services Society takes seriously the justice aims of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report. To improve access to justice for Indigenous people, therefore, LSS has added or expanded services.
LSS has increased the number of Gladue reports it funds. Gladue reports describe an Indigenous offender’s unique circumstances resulting from such things as the Indian Residential School system, colonialism, and racism, with the aim of ensuring judges make fair sentences.
New services include helping Indigenous legal aid clients with issues that impact their primary legal matter, such as band membership applications or accessing a benefit program.
Eligible Indigenous (and non-Indigenous) people can also get a lawyer’s help for matrimonial “real property” on reserve after a relationship break-down.
And extended family members may be eligible for legal aid when they want to care for a child who might otherwise go into government care. Lawyers will assist them at early, collaborative child protection processes before the court is involved – or, when necessary, in court.
Coming soon: Enhanced online legal aid services
Our Family Law in BC website gets hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. With funding from the provincial government, Law Foundation and Notary Foundation, LSS is currently revamping the site so that it is more user-friendly than ever. Other LSS websites that will be getting enhanced features this year, and beyond, are MyLawBC and the Aboriginal Legal Aid website.