EDITORIAL: Legal aid changes must start from within

When premier designate Christy Clark officially takes over as leader of the province next week, one of her first important decisions will be to appoint a new Attorney General. Whoever that is, he or she needs to make reforming B.C.’s legal aid system a priority.

But a system that is failing those who can’t afford proper legal representation won’t be fixed by simply throwing money at it. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is right to be skeptical about putting more money into the hands of lawyers who seem to have a way of stretching out proceedings while they’re on the clock. That’s why any real change will have to come from within the system.

Lawyers are part of a judicial system that forms the underpinnings of our democratic society. We put a lot of faith in their integrity and expect that they put serving others ahead of amassing personal wealth.

The way things are done right now has a number of flaws, including forcing too many people to try and navigate the courts without really knowing what they’re doing.

Often, these are people who need a lawyer but can’t qualify for legal aid. A recent report by the West Coast Women’s Legal, Education and Action Fund found there’s been a sharp decline in legal representation offered by the Legal Services Society of B.C. from 2001 to 2010. The number of approved cases dropped from 15,536 to 6,270 over the decade.

The action fund’s report focused on the resulting social and economic repercussions in the province – now ranked third-lowest in the country for per-capita spending on legal services.

The efficiency of our already stressed court system is also affected as judges and lawyers, who know their way around a courthouse, often have their expensive time wasted by people who haven’t correctly followed the process.

People conform to the law because they believe doing so is best for the greater good. The legal community has to do a better job of ensuring all citizens have adequate representation without breaking the public purse.