Ian Mulgrew: Eby’s quick and dirty review of legal aid blowing up in his face | Vancouver Sun, 18 November

Attorney General David Eby
Photo Credit: Vancouver Sun

Attorney General David Eby is being hoist with his own petard — the fuse lit by UN agencies who for more than a decade complained B.C.’s lack of legal aid services violated binding international human rights law.

In a letter sent Thursday and obtained by Postmedia, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada urged Eby to extend the looming year’s end deadline and the scope of a review he ordered into new models for delivering legal aid.

Catherine Morris, UN liaison for the group, and Victoria lawyer Michael Mulligan met with the rookie NDP minister and told him they were preparing a submission based on research showing that since at least 2010 the province has not met its international commitments.

“We note that the scope of your review is ‘limited to legal aid service delivery models …[and] will not include recommendations on … client eligibility criteria, area scope of coverage, and rates of pay for legal aid lawyers,’” said the letter signed by Morris and Gail Davidson, the non-profit’s executive director.

“Repeated criticisms of B.C. legal aid by UN human rights bodies, e.g., in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2012, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 are focused primarily on scope and eligibility for legal aid, and international human rights standards include requirements of competency and effectiveness of legal aid service providers, which are affected by the current low rates of pay. Yet these topics are excluded from the review.”

Eby announced the review on Oct. 4 saying Access Pro Bono executive director Jamie Maclaren would examine caseload demand, differing legal aid models, duty counsel, legal clinics, major case coverage, paralegals, trends in legal aid needs and models used in other areas.

The A-G insisted he wanted to ensure the government was getting the best bang for the nearly $90 million being spent.

Sure — all within three months by a man with no staff or budget and the caveat that his ambit does not include the key issues.

Yet this quick-and-dirty effort “may inform future system changes to enhance both the user and public interest in more effective, efficient and accessible legal aid services.”

That’s why the lawyer’s group wanted Eby to expand its terms of reference to ensure the review responds to the pressing concerns UN human rights bodies have raised for years.

It also wants Maclaren given more time to consider not only service delivery models but also the scope of coverage, client eligibility, factors affecting competency and effectiveness of service providers and wages.

Ontario and even Newfoundland and Labrador pay between $109 and $150 an hour for legal aid work while B.C. lawyers get between $84 and $92 an hour — and they haven’t had a raise since 2006.

And, as Richard Fowler of the Association of Legal Aid Lawyers, noted, “This has been studied to death.”

Under the banner of the Public Commission on Legal Aid, eminent Vancouver lawyer Leonard Doust in March 2011 produced a report that maintained legal aid should be an essential public service with stable funding.

When you consider who was behind Doust — the Canadian Bar Association (British Columbia)the Law Society of British ColumbiaCrown Counsel Association of British Columbiathe Law Foundation of British Columbia, the Vancouver Bar Association and the Victoria Bar Association — you’d think his key recommendation would have got more respect.

But legal aid remains the Rodney Dangerfield of the system: It don’t get no respect.

Lawyer’s Rights Watch produced a report in 2014 that indicted the province for 15 years of underfunding that mostly hurt women and marginalized people, especially First Nations.

It concluded the beggaring of legal aid had undermined the entire justice system and had far-reaching implications for the health, economy and social fabric of the province.

It was ignored.

This redundant review appears to have been envisioned as a quick exercise to give Eby some cover for the flak he’s taking for allowing the threadbare status quo to continue.

Instead, it is blowing up in his face — a lightning rod for anger at the long neglect. – [see the full story]