This week on Legally Speaking with Michael Mulligan:
British Columbia has had inadequate legal aid funding for family and poverty law cases for many years.
In 1992 the NDP government imposed a special tax on legal services to fund legal aid. Anyone who hires a lawyer pays this special 7% tax that applies to no other professional services.
In 2002 the Liberal government of the day cut legal aid funding by 40% but kept the tax in place. The result was dramatic cuts to family and poverty law services and legal aid clinics across the province being closed. The government did, however, keep the special tax in place.
This has disproportionately impacted women and indigenous people who relied more heavily on the services that were eliminated.
By 2017 the special tax on legal services was raising more than $210 million per year.
By 2022 only $108.6 million of the funds collected by the special tax was being provided to Legal Aid BC.
Rather than stopping the diversion of funds raised by the special tax on legal services, the government has proposed having paralegals, rather than lawyers, assist with family law and other matters for the poor.
This has been resisted by the Law Society, which is the self-government body that regulates lawyers.
One of the core obligations of the Law Society is to ensure that the public is protected by ensuring people providing legal services are properly qualified.
Having unsupervised paralegals providing family law services is a concern because family law can be very complicated, and mistakes can impact important things such as child custody, spousal and child support.
In an attempt to force the use of paralegals, the provincial government has issued an Intentions Paper which proposes giving the government more control over the Law Society by decreasing the number of elected Benchers and increasing the number of Benchers appointed by the government.
Law Society Benchers are similar to a board of directors.
This proposal is of significant concern because the legal profession needs to be independent of the government. After all, lawyers often oppose the government.
Until November 18, 2022, an online survey is open concerning the government’s proposals.
Also, on the show, the Supreme Court of Canada has determined that judges are permitted to impose harsher sentences than what is being requested by the Crown; however, they are required to advise the parties they plan to do this and permit the opportunity for further submissions.
The SCC distinguished cases where there was a disagreement on when the sentence should be from cases where there is a joint submission.
For joint submissions, a judge must do what is requested unless it is so inappropriate that it would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.
Finally, a judicial recount from the municipal in Port Moody is discussed.
The initial machine vote count resulted in a two-vote difference between the two candidates. Feeding some of the ballots through the vote-counting machine resulted in a slightly different result. A further machine recount identified six ballots the courting machine was having trouble reading.
When these ballots were looked at, the intention of the voters was clear. The result of counting the votes property was a tie. Pursuant to the Local Government Act, the tie was resolved by a random draw.
The candidate who was initially two votes behind won the random draw and became the council member.