Ian Mulgrew: Law Society legal-aid debate aborted

Politics

A much-anticipated debate on the self-representation and legal-aid crisis besetting B.C. courts and the strident concerns within the Law Society of B.C. about how to deal with it have been put on hold.

Ironically, the important discussion about key access-to-justice concerns was cut off by access issues.

Shortly after the start of the Law Society’s annual general meeting Tuesday, the computer system linking the various locations and allowing members to vote on resolutions crashed.

President Miriam Kresivo apologized, but said so many lawyers wanted to participate that the meeting would have to be re-scheduled — no earlier than three or four weeks hence.

Nearly 1,800 members of the profession gathered at the Vancouver Convention Centre, at electronically linked locations in Victoria, Nanaimo, Castlegar, Kelowna, Prince George, Dawson Creek, Smithers and Kamloops, as well as online.

It was the largest and expected to be the most fractious meeting of the profession since 2014 when the lawyers were piqued by Trinity Western University’s law school proposal.

The lightning rod this time was the lack of legal aid and safety net for the vulnerable and needy — the roughly 12,000 members were being asked to do more charity work and to accept a new licensed group of family law paralegals who would be less-trained and cheaper alternatives to lawyers.

Attorney-General David Eby was so concerned about the outcome, he asked to speak to the assembly.

“Government alone cannot solve the access to justice problems we face,” Eby told the meeting before it adjourned because of the technical difficulties.

He said the NDP government was willing to work with the bar on either of two pro bono motions that had been put forward, and he adamantly urged the profession to approve the paralegals resolution.

If it did not, he said the public would get the wrong idea — that lawyers don’t care about access to justice.

“It’s not who we are as lawyers,” Eby insisted.

Perhaps, but the reckoning was delayed.

The most controversial resolution, submitted by Victoria lawyers Kevin McCullough and Danielle Young, called on the society to establish a mandatory pro bono duty on all lawyers to remedy the legal-aid crisis.

It was attacked by the Legal Services Society who claim it would be all but impossible to administrate.

A compromise pro bono resolution to salvage the profession’s reputation was put forward suggesting a minimum of 10 pro bono hours per calendar year.

The ruling benchers, however, reiterated that the society had previously considered mandatory pro bono service, …read more

Source:: Vancouver Sun – Politics

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