Legal aid funding crunch leads to service cuts

Jan. 13, 2009

B.C.’s Legal Services Society will be cutting services and laying off workers because of a funding shortfall, CBC News has learned.

The non-profit organization that provides legal aid to those who couldn’t otherwise afford it is cutting 16 per cent of its workforce, according to a memo obtained by CBC News.

The memo says the level of aid provided in family and criminal cases will be reduced, and that the society will drastically reduce advocacy efforts designed to integrate legal aid and promote reform in the justice system.

Demand for legal aid has gone up more than anticipated, so the society must focus on services within a budget approved by its board, the memo says.

Over the next 3½ months, 38 positions for lawyers, legal secretaries and library staff in the Lower Mainland will be cut, and the downtown Vancouver clinic that deals with family law will be closed.

In addition, funding for a phone service that provides advice, resources and referrals to those who don’t qualify for legal aid will be cut back at the end of March.

The non-profit organization receives the bulk of its funding from governments, but it also receives grants from other organizations.

The memo says the grants for this year are lower than expected and income from the society’s own investments is forecast to fall because of nose-diving interest rates.

No one from the Legal Services Society returned the CBC’s calls for comment.

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