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Legal aid, staffing issues suggest need for court system review

published November 1, 2017

It is time for a realistic review of the court system in British Columbia, as low sheriffs’ salaries are just the “tip of the iceberg,” B.C. criminal lawyer Dr. Gary Botting tells The Lawyer’s Daily.

Concerns are being raised about the lack of sheriffs in British Columbia's courtrooms arising from comparatively low compensation compared to police officers, says the article. This lack of court staff, says Botting, principal of Gary N.A. Botting, Barrister and Solicitor, is “obviously” going to lead to delays in proceedings, noting that there has been a problem in some of the outlying areas of the province.

With respect to scheduling, when a case needs to be adjourned because of a lack of sheriffs, "it falls in with the other cases and you have to find a date that works. And you have to make time in the judge’s schedule as well,” he says. “It seems like a minor thing when the sheriff doesn’t show up but it has major consequences.”

Botting also explains that the Legal Aid rate of $83.90 per hour has remained stagnant in the province for 25 years.

“For my Legal Aid cases, I’m getting the same compensation I got in the early 1990s,” he says. “The only way to benefit is to take a huge file that is likely to pay dividends or give the cases to people fresh out of law school who are trying to build their careers [in which case] the accused is not well-represented.”

As a result, he says it is time for a “realistic” review of the court system in B.C.

“The fact is there hasn’t been [a review of sheriffs’ salaries or legal aid lawyers’ fees] for a long time,” says Botting.

Compensation, whether for sheriffs or legal aid lawyers, is "part and parcel of the same pot, and the pot needs to be doubled.”