Legal aid in BC, 2024 Overview of current concerns | Briefing notes

Legal aid in BC, 2024

Overview of current concerns

Information compiled by Michael T. Mulligan, Barrister and Solicitor


22 April 2024

1. Even after the small additional amount of money provided to legal aid over the past couple of years, the BC government continues to keep in general revenue more than half of the money collected pursuant to the special PST on legal services.

2. Family law coverage remains completely inadequate. They added funding for people who claim they are subject to family violence. Still, only 25 hours of work to “stabilize their legal situation,” such as getting a protection order and then the person is on their own. No help with child custody, child support, spousal support or anything else. In addition, and most unfortunately, when you tell people they can get 25 hours of legal assistance only if they claim they are dealing with family violence, there is a powerful incentive to make such an allegation:

3. Because of chronic underfunding of Legal Aid BC, the financial eligibility threshold for eligibility is unrealistically low. For most categories of service, a single person with a full-time minimum-wage job makes too much money to qualify:

4. There is a slightly higher income threshold if someone is pleading guilty (referred to as “Criminal Early Resolution”). This threshold is $3,320 / month rather than $2,320 / month. This means that someone earning minimum wage can get legal aid if they plead guilty but not if they plead not guilty. This is a major fairness concern that appears to be a discriminatory interference with the right to a fair trial.

5. Legal Aid coverage in criminal matters is available only if one is both financially eligible and one faces a likelihood of going to jail. This results in poor people with no criminal record pleading guilty and getting a record because they can’t get any assistance, no matter how little they make.

6. Since all the legal aid offices were closed and staff lawyers fired, there has been no replacement for poverty law services: evictions, disability benefits etc.

7. Even when someone gets legal aid coverage, the rates paid to lawyers mean that the lawyers doing legal aid work take on so many cases to earn a living that time is often unavailable for adequate time to do a high-quality job. While there was a small increase in rates in 2022 after years of no increases, the amount paid was and is nowhere near what the government pays for Crown Counsel and counsel on child protection cases, who are now directly employed by the government. Such a situation violates the international law principle of “equality of arms,” which would ensure equivalent representation for both sides, including an equivalent amount paid to counsel doing each side of criminal and child protection cases.

8. The chart at has a history of funding and legal aid expenditure from 1997 to 2017 and relevant comments concerning the special tax. In 1997, the special tax brought in $194 million. In 2023, the Legal Aid BC budget received a total of $114M from the BC government: