B.C. Legal Aid Commission Concludes System Broken

Earlier this week, the Public Commission on Legal Aid in British Columbia released its report on the sad state of legal aid in the province.

Commissioner Leonard T. Doust makes 7 overarching findings:

  • The legal aid system is failing needy individuals and families, the justice system, and our communities.
  • Legal information is not an adequate substitute for legal assistance and representation.
  • Timing of accessing legal aid is key.
  • There is a broad consensus concerning the need for innovative, client-focused legal aid services.
  • Steps must be taken to meet legal aid needs in rural communities.
  • More people should be eligible for legal aid.
  • Legal aid should be fully funded as an essential public service.

To remedy the situation, he presents a number of recommendations, including:

  • Recognize legal aid as an essential public service.
  • Develop a new approach to define core services and priorities.
  • Modernize and expand financial eligibility.
  • Establish regional legal aid centres and innovative service delivery.
  • There must be greater collaboration between public and private legal aid service providers.
  • Provide more support to legal aid providers.

For additional news coverage, you can read:


  1. Particularly important among the recommendations in the Doust Report on B.C. Legal Aid is greater use of electronic technology. For example, centralized legal research (CLR). It has been a service provided to Ontario lawyers by Legal Aid Ontario since 1979. It has been a great success. It is the best centralized legal research unit (“research practice group”) in Canada–better than anything developed in any law firm. For CLR, the bigger the better, i.e., greater volume grows the database of finished legal opinions and other reusable materials faster. So, provide service to other provinces as well as to B.C. lawyers. And, from the database, develop standard legal memoranda on “high volume issues.” They can be sold from a catalogue in individual and “bulk sales.” Survey the lawyers served as to how much time the CLR service saved them in each case–thus demonstrate in dollars the cost-saving to Legal Aid + catalogue sales. I know it works because I did all of it and more for Legal Ontario beginning in 1979, establishing its CLR unit, LAOLaw at Legal Aid Ontario–see its website. Now, why didn’t such innovation happen in one of Canada’s large, prestigious law firms? — Ken Chasse, LSUC 1966, LSBC 1978.

  2. For more information, see the Legal Services Society (legal aid) of BC response to the report.

    Also, see the list of the local agent offices in 33 communities accross BC where clients can apply for legal aid in person.

  3. I agree with Mr. Doust’s findings, which accord with what we have known for quite awhile about the legal aid systm in B.C. – it is wholly insufficient to meet the basic legal needs of low-income residents.

    However, none of these recommendations can be implemented without a significant infusion of funds into the legal aid system. By the Legal Service Society’s account, at least $47 million is needed to bring the system up to 2002 service levels. Recently, I wrote a blog post about the public’s reluctance to fund legal aid:


  4. As someone who is not a lawyer but has had considerable experience testing the courts and other components of the legal system, my reaction when I first heard about this latest inquiry into the state of legal aid was that it would surely be just another waste of time.

    And so it was.

    The legal establishment has gone down this road how many times now? The vast majority of people know almost nothing about the legal / justice system except that it seems to favour privileged interests over the public interest. Why then would the public be receptive to proposals for more public expenditure? It’s not politically saleable, and the politicians realize that.

    What they apparently don’t understand is that Canada’s entire legal system is antiquated and it needs to be redesigned from the ground up. A key issue that needs to be publicly debated is the monopoly. As one of the many people who have been forced to represent themselves and face professional counsel I have concluded that the monopoly is inherently unconstitutional. Just consider how the current legal landscape would look tomorrow if the relevant statutory provisions were repealed. I cannot see that the result would be any more problematic than what we have today. Why is the legal establishment so protective of the monopoly? Until it is prepared to deal with issues at that level, more studies are going to accomplish nothing.