Legal Aid offices close, limiting access to legal services

Office closures, budget cuts leave many to fend for themselves

VANCOUVER, March 26 /CNW/ - B.C. government budget cuts have forced the Legal Services Society to close five regional legal aid centres and the legal aid section of the Justice Access Centre in Nanaimo effective today, says the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union.

"The B.C. government's budget cuts are directly responsible for the closure of these offices and the elimination of 58 jobs, including 44 of our members," says BCGEU president Darryl Walker. "There's no question that these cuts will prevent many low-income people from accessing legal services."

"If you are a single mother on a limited income who needs legal representation to gain custody of your children and secure financial support, you're pretty much out of luck in B.C.," says Walker. "If you're an immigrant fleeing a repressive country, trying to make a new life in Canada, your access to legal services has been severely restricted."

In addition to closing regional offices and laying off staff, the society is closing its LawLINE phone service that offers free legal advice on civil and poverty disputes, as well as the Community Advocate Support Line, which provides support services for advocates working on behalf of clients.

"Setting up lawyers as local agents is no substitute for a full-service legal aid office in your community. And the services provided by these agents is being reduced as well, in many cases," said Walker.

The B.C. Liberal government has cut the legal aid budget by $3 million over two years, and directed the society to halve its office administration costs. Criminal law services have also been cut. The budget for defending suspects in major criminal trials has been cut by 41 per cent, and low-income people charged with lesser criminal offences will be forced to represent themselves in court.

BCGEU members will participate in a noon rally today, outside the downtown headquarters of the Legal Services Society at 510 Burrard Street in Vancouver.

SOURCE B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union

For further information: For further information: Chris Bradshaw at (604) 291-9611 or (604) 209-4129

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