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From: "Sharon D. Matthews" <SMatthews@cfmlawyers.ca>
Date: Mon, 20 Feb 2012 10:56:37 -0800
Subject: RE: OpEd in today's paper
B.C. justice in dire need of attention
Hi Carol – I sent you a link before but here is my attempt at a cut and past from the link. It is in today’s Vancouver Sun, page A9:
By Sharon Matthews, Special to the Sun February 19, 2012
Justice is a simple system, but with a thousand details which make it seem complicated. The simple foundation for justice is that individuals experiencing a legal crisis have the opportunity to have that issue resolved by an independent and impartial judge, while represented by an independent counsel, in a timely manner. No one gets a better deal than the next person because they have more connections or more money. No judge is corruptible, and everyone, no matter how serious the allegations (including divorcing spouses, parents whose children have been apprehended, and those charged with crimes) is entitled to a fair trial.
Justice for everyone who comes before the law makes a just society. In order to have a good health care system we must treat each patient, and in order to have a good education system, we must educate each child. To have a good justice system, we must treat each person who seeks justice fairly.
In British Columbia, we have allowed that to slide over the last decade. In 2002, faced with a financial crisis, the government cut legal aid severely and closed 24 courthouses. Since that time, strains in the system have become worse as a significant number of departing judges, court staff and Crown counsel have not been replaced due to lack of resources.
It is popular to blame judges and lawyers for the current crisis of delays in the justice system but they are working under extreme pressures due to the lack of resources coupled with the prevalence of people without lawyers trying to get their legal crises resolved. Up to 95 per cent of family cases in Provincial Court involve a person who does not have a lawyer. These people are in the middle of a devastating crisis, which at the same time is all too common and all too human. They cannot adequately represent themselves given the emotional, psychological and legal issues at play. The children are in the middle. Some of us ask, can’t the lawyers and judges help? Meanwhile, in 2010, 5,414 lawyers reported an amazing 47 hours of freely donated legal advice each and judges worked with lawyers to getting the legal advice to people in court.
The human and social costs of unrepresented people in crisis are staggering. Legal representation for only one — or worse, neither party — delays the speed and efficiency of the courts, and delays other proceedings “behind” them — including serious criminal matters.
With legal aid, individuals (our neighbours) get the help they need to get on with their lives. Effective resolution of legal problems prevent them from getting worse, costing the individuals dearly and costing taxpayers more in housing, policing, social services, health and mental health. These unrepresented people need legal aid and we all need them to get it.
As of today, there are about 2,500 criminal cases at risk of being “stayed” (dismissed before trial) because the constitutional right to a trial within a fair time has not been met. This is a serious situation that demands our collective voices to ensure that the backlog is being cleared and the correct procedures and resources are put in place to avoid it in the future.
In multiple jurisdictions around the world, an investment in legal aid has proven to provide a much larger savings than the original investment, ranging from $1.60 to $2.25 per dollar invested, some reporting much higher savings (see www.WeNeedLegalAid.com for links to the studies).
This last week, the B.C. government announced nine Provincial Court judicial appointments and a justice system review. These developments reflect a heartening acknowledgment by government that the justice system is a serious public concern and priority for action. What is needed now is an investment in legal aid to get resolvable cases out of the courts and allow room to deal with a huge criminal case backlog years in the making. Let your MLA know you want this dealt with as a priority, so the courts can do what they are supposed to do — resolve disputes fairly within a reasonable time.
Sharon Matthews is president of the Canadian Bar Association, BC
Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/news/justice+dire+need+attention/6178026/story.html#ixzz1mwwZB6J7
Sharon D. Matthews
400-856 Homer Street
Vancouver, BC V6B 2W5
Direct 604-331-9522 / Main 604-689-7555
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