|For immediate release||February 22, 2002|
Law Society condemns sacking of Legal Society Board
VANCOUVER – The Law Society of B.C. today condemned the Attorney General of B.C. for sacking the Legal Services Society board of directors.
"The Government of B.C. today terminated the independence of legal aid in British Columbia and imposed the government's dictates upon the Legal Services Society," said Law Society of B.C. President Richard Gibbs, Q.C.
"The Attorney General cited the provincial deficit as justification for taking over legal aid and ramming through the government's agenda. But the government is being penny wise and pound foolish. The contraction of legal aid will cost far more than will be saved."
Mr. Gibbs said the provincial government precipitated the legal aid crisis. "The government hasn't put a nickel into legal aid for years. Instead they have, for years, diverted money from the dedicated legal aid tax and applied it to other government debts."
"The Attorney General is amnesic," said Mr. Gibbs. "I remind him of his own words in the Legislature on May 11, 2000, when he embarrassed the NDP Attorney General with this pointed question: 'Isn't there something wrong with the government taking all this money from legal accounts as a result of a tax which was imposed, the justification of which was for legal aid, yet it doesn't actually, really, direct all of that revenue into the legal aid system?'"
Mr. Gibbs said the government is taking money needed to provide access to justice to the most vulnerable members of our society and then crying poor. "How cynical is it to create legal rights and then deny the poor any means to assert those rights? This appropriation for legal aid, and the government's dictates as to how it will be spent, gut the family and poverty law programs. The government is making a mockery of equality before the law."
Mr. Gibbs also noted that the Attorney General's comparisons to other provinces' spending on legal aid are meaningless. "Other provinces don't collect revenues from a dedicated tax on lawyers' bills to pay for legal aid. In addition to the provincial sales tax, the government of B.C. receives at least $9 million per year from the federal government in transfer payments for criminal legal aid."
The Law Society's President noted that the Attorney General himself argued in the Legislature on May 11, 2000, when he was in Opposition: 'Someone who was less than kindly disposed to the provincial government would argue that the province has, in effect, profited to the tune of $15 million from the legal aid system.'
Mr. Gibbs said that the independence of the legal aid scheme is critical: "Independence is the hallmark of the historic partnership between the legal profession and the provincial government. You can't have the Attorney General dictating the priorities of the legal aid scheme. Those decisions must be provided by an independent board of directors. This is a sad day for the administration of justice in B.C."
With over 10,000 members, the Law Society of British Columbia is the governing body for the B.C. legal profession. Its chief executive officer is the Executive Director and its senior elected official is the President. The Law Society's principal responsibility is to uphold and protect the public interest in the administration of justice and to set standards for the education, professional responsibility and competence of practising lawyers in the province.
Law Society of B.C. media contact:
Brad Daisley, Public Affairs Manager
Office: 604-443-5724 or 1-800-903-5300 toll-free in B.C.