Most Canadians Cannot Afford Justice: BC's Legal Monopoly
Justice System In The Monopoly Of Financial Elite & The Legal Profession
"...less than 3-percent of civil cases filed are determined on their merits through an adjudication process. The Civil Justice Reform Working Group reached the conclusion that a significant number of cases are simply not resolved because of cost, delay and the complexity of our civil justice system..." William M.Everett, QC ,Chair, Justice Review Task Force
Evidence suggests that when it comes to accessing the justice system, Canadians are not faring any better than Third World nations, in fact the opposite may be true. Canada’s legal system is complex where procedural considerations often overshadow the real issue and provides fertile ground for skilful lawyers to manipulate the system to affect the dispensation of a fair verdict.
Unless you are representing yourself, professional legal representation for a civil dispute in British Columbia may run anywhere from $50,000 to $300,000 depending on how long it takes and whether there’s any settlement before the trial. Aside from court fees that are a small fraction of that sum, the money goes to lawyers in legal fees, and there’s no guarantee you will win or get the result you’re seeking even if you mortgage your house or blow your life savings. If you look at Statistics Canada figures of income, that means the justice system, with the exception of Small Claims, is out of reach of most Canadians. Lawyers will generally charge you a fee of $1,500 to $5,000 just to render an opinion, which means they don’t know what your case is about, and they will learn at your expense. The litigation process is fraught with penalties to the weaker party every step of the way, and lawyers are often paid to wear down opponents financially so the issue won’t go to trial.
BC lawyers don’t take cases on contingency unless it’s an ambulance case where they don’t have to work to prove liability. Hourly rates run from $250/hour for a junior to $500-600/hour for an experienced lawyer that knows what he’s talking about. That means the justice system is off limits to all but the financial elite.
The reason for the high cost of justice is simple. Legal profession is a monopoly that has been legislated by the provincial government and allowed to “regulate” itself. BC may be the worst case scenario. While Ontario allows agents, or consultants, to help or represent people that can’t afford lawyers even in criminal cases, the Law Society of British Columbia has been clamping down on everyone that threatens the profitability of the trade. For the past 20 years the Law Society of British Columbia has successfully prosecuted every would-be legal consultant under the BC Legal Profession Act, including retired police officers. An Ontario consultant firm of ex-police officers that came to Vancouver to offer help to the public with traffic tickets was chased right out of the province. The Judge said, “Our Legal Profession Act is worded differently than Ontario’s...and it’s in public interest.”
If you have a problem with your lawyer, don’t expect much help from the Law Society of British Columbia unless it’s a criminal or near criminal matter. They will tell you they don’t get involved with lawyers’ bills, so you’ll have to face the music yourself against your lawyer in court. It appears that the Society is there to protect lawyers from the public, not vice versa. In fact, an important part of the BC Legal Profession Act is about lawyers’ entitlement to get paid for their bills and about protecting the trade from intrusion by non-lawyers that are not members of the Law Society of British Columbia. If you have a claim of malpractice against your lawyer, the Law Society will defend the lawyer against your claim. How is that for a conflict of (public) interest? And all that is supposed to be for your best interests and protection.
The BC Liberals’ record in the administration of justice has been a mixed bag. One of the first things the Campbell Government did was to close down court houses across the province and cut down on the budget for court services. They moved the BC Rentalsman’s Office out of Vancouver’s West End, where most renters live, to Burnaby. On the other hand, they raised the limit of the Small Claims Court from $10,000 to $25,000, which was a positive move that increased access to the justice system, and may be the highest monetary limit for a small claims court on this continent.
Mr. Wally Oppal, BC’s Attorney General and a former judge, says the government is looking into cutting down the high cost of litigation in British Columbia by reducing court fees. The Honourable Wally Oppal knows very well that reducing court fees won’t make a dent in the armour of BC’s powerful legal monopoly, or in the ability of most people to pursue justice, and is a distraction from the real issue.
Many British Columbians are opting for self-representation in court as the only alternative to waiving their fundamental rights of pursuing justice, but there isn’t any notable government help to those that buck the system. Two years ago I applied to the University of British Columbia to take or audit a couple of law courses, but they wouldn’t let me. UBC Law School is one of the pillars of the province’s legal monopoly, and receives contributions from large legal firms.
The Courthouse Library at Vancouver’s 800 Smithe Street is an excellent repository of information for those that must represent themselves, but members of the public are kicked out at 4:30PM sharp and they cannot use the library on weekends. I wrote to Mr. Oppal last year to ask the government for better access to the library and other resources for unrepresented parties, but I never heard from him.
In 2002 a BC Justice Review Task Force was established to reform the province's justice system. It's made up of judges, prominent lawyers, and members of government. Public is not represented.
Here's a link to some recent correspondence between the Task Force and Law Society.
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