10/07/2013 03:08 EDT | Updated 12/07/2013 05:12 EST

B.C. Legal Aid Agreement Averts Court Delays: Attorney General

VICTORIA - Concerns raised by legal aid lawyers about adjourning child-protection hearings have been averted following a series of meetings between the Liberal government and British Columbia's Legal Services Society, said provincial Attorney General Suzanne Anton.

Anton said Monday her ministry guarantees the child protection cases will go ahead despite earlier concerns about funding shortfalls that had lawyers saying the government didn't have the money to pay them.

"There are not going to be adjournments," she said. "The cases will go ahead. Lawyers will be paid."

Some lawyers were prepared to start to adjourn trials set for early next year due to the concerns that there was not enough money available for legal aid.

Anton said the concerns sparked high-level ministry meetings, but never was there a plan to drop the trials to save money.

"There was never a direction, but there was chat," she said. "What we've got now is commitment that the legal services on child protection services will continue."

Legal Services Society chief executive officer Mark Benton issued a statement to lawyers saying the society will be paying the accounts connected to cases that continue through the current fiscal year, which ends on March 31, 2014.

"Consequently, LSS is no longer recommending that lawyers avoid booking hearing dates for legal aid work from February 17 through March 31, 2014," stated Benton's letter. "We continue, however, to face a significant cost pressure in criminal tariff services and our discussions with government are ongoing. Unless they are relieved, these pressures will require LSS to significantly reduce some important client services for a period of time between November 2013 and April 2014."

Anton, who would not discuss the financial details of the agreement with the legal aid society, said she is committed to balancing her ministry's budget.

"We're sharpening our pencils. They're sharpening their pencils," she said.

Anton said a major reason for the funding issue relates to the current success of the government's justice reform initiatives that have moved cases through the courts at faster rates. She said because cases are going through the system faster, lawyers are submitting bills at faster rates.

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