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Justice funding boost positive, but more needed for legal aid

published March 14, 2018

While an increase in funding for the justice sector in the recent British Columbia budget is good news, Vancouver criminal and appellate lawyer Gary Botting tells The Lawyer’s Daily that more money needs to be put into the legal aid system.

He says legal aid is losing many senior counsel because the system doesn’t pay adequate fees. He notes the bulk of legal aid cases are taken on by lawyers who are recent law graduates who do not have the experience and exposure to a range of case law in their background as more practised counsel.

By definition, new lawyers “don’t have a seasoned approach to law,” he says. Legal aid lawyers, in particular, need to approach issues in a creative yet cost-effective way — including “to think outside the box and think about Charter rights,” he says.

The Legal Services Society "might be able to draw more experienced lawyers back into the fold if they increase the tariff. That should be a priority, I think.”

Botting, principal of Gary N. A. Botting, Barrister and Solicitor, weighs in after the delivery of the provincial budget included nearly $4.8 million in additional annual funding for legal aid, $5 million more per year for sheriff services and court staff, an extra $3.8 million per year to fund expansion of Parents Legal Centres, and an increase of $3.3 million for initiatives related to family dispute resolution and augmenting digital access to justice services, says the article.

Botting applauds the government for the increase in funding for the province’s sheriffs, who provide security in courtrooms, it says.

He says it's not entirely a matter of hiring more sheriffs but also increasing their salaries in order to ensure they stay within the system. “In B.C., sheriffs are paid $58,000 a year, while the average salary of a municipal police officer is $93,000,” says the article.

“There’s such a shortage they travel to far-flung courts to fill in blanks when they’re needed. Whenever you have a person accused of criminal activity who appears in person, you have to have a sheriff there,” Botting says.

“It’s good to know they keep up their training," and they should be compensated accordingly, he says.