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Legal Aid in British Columbia

The concept of legal aid is one of the best ideas in the legal sphere for people with low or no income. While the law of Canada grants equal rights to every citizen the financial situation can sometimes limit the possibilities of the people who are in need of legal help. That’s why Canada has a developed system of Legal Aid offices, which provide some level of legal aid to people who are unable to afford legal representation due to financial difficulties.

British Columbia has established a Legal Air program in 1979. This system in the province is administered by Legal Services Society and regulated by the Legal Services Society Act (Chapter 30 of the 2002 Statutes of British Columbia). Legal Services Society is an independent, non-profit organization acting under the laws of British Columbia. It is funded mostly by provincial government, but also receives funds from federal government and various law organizations. As in the other provinces before a person receives legal aid, he or she must pass qualification. The Legal Services Society Act states that legal aid is available to individuals with low income or no income in following situations. When the individual is a defendant in criminal proceedings and the verdict can lead to the individual’s imprisonment. When the individual can be imprisoned or confined through civil proceedings. If the individual’s physical or mental safety or health or that of the individual’s children is or may be affected by domestic dispute, where the individual represents one of the sides. Also legal aid can be provided if the individual has a legal problem that threatens his or her family’s physical or mental safety or health, ability to feed, clothe and provide shelter for himself or herself and the individual’s dependents, or livelihood. So as you see legal aid is provided generally in most serious cases, when the individual faces such serious thing as imprisonment for example. Due to the changes in the economical situation the defining the low income also varies from time to time.

Despite of the great idea of the Legal Aid system, in Canada it has a number of problems that eventually ended up as a crisis of this system. The main problem of legal aid is underfunding. The salaries of professional attorneys are usually high, so there is actually a very small percentage of attorneys willing to work for small government set salaries. Mostly people who spent serious amounts of money on education are not willing to start their career as a public lawyer. Another problem of this system is uneven coverage, it actually varies from province to province. Legal aid is available only for certain types of problems and procedures so at some points it proves to be inefficient. The three main problems – underfunding, coverage and effectiveness lead to the fourth problem – disappointment of the people. The whole system turns out to be not very helpful in some of the cases, so basically people loose faith in legal aid.

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