Legal Aid Test Case

Share your legal aid and access to justice story with the Single Mothers' Alliance to impact our law suit!

For more information and to connect with SMA staff directly about sharing your impact story please call 604-366-1008 or email [email protected]. We look forward to hearing from you and thank you for coming forward. 

The Test Case

Single Mothers’ Alliance v BC is a constitutional challenge against the Province of BC and the Legal Services Society (now known as Legal Aid BC) for failing to provide adequate family law legal aid to women leaving abusive relationships who are experiencing poverty. West Coast LEAF is providing legal representation to the SMA; we are the primary plaintiff in the case representing women impacted by this issue.

The case, launched in April 2017, alleges that BC has a constitutional responsibility under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to ensure access to the justice system for women who are fleeing violent relationships or facing ongoing abuse from ex-spouses. The plaintiffs will argue that BC’s legal aid system discriminates against women and children in need of access to legal aid due to their socioeconomic status and violates their rights to life and security of the person by increasing their risk of exposure to violence and intense stress.

The Province and LSS made applications to the court arguing that the case should not move ahead in whole (Province) or in part (LSS). On August 23, 2019, the court ruled in no uncertain terms that the case can go ahead as intended. 

What We Heard 

Since we founded in 2014, lone-mothers living in poverty in BC have shared with us about how lack of access to family law legal aid has left them at risk and impacted their lives and the lives of their children through economic hardship, inability to access the family law system adequately, and more. If you are an SMA member and you wish to speak with us about how this lawsuit may impact you as a member or ask any questions you may have, please email [email protected]

The Reality 

As articulated by Westcoat LEAF, when women fleeing relationship violence can’t get a lawyer to represent them in their family law dispute, conflict with their abusive ex can be drawn out and intensified. Violence can escalate, endangering them and their children. They may even lose custody of their kids.

This scenario is all too common in BC today. More than a decade ago, legal aid in BC was drastically cut by 40% overall and by 60% for family law, so that today 3 out of every 5 applications for family law legal aid representation are denied. Access to family law legal aid is generally restricted to those who are recognized as needing an immediate interim court order to ensure their own or their children’s safety. Even when women do manage to get help from a family law lawyer through the legal aid system, the time the lawyer can spend preparing for the case is capped at such a low level that many of their legal needs are still likely to go unmet. In addition, the extremely low-income requirement for legal aid eligibility excludes a huge number of people who cannot afford a lawyer, including many minimum wage earners.

What’s Next

SMA spokesperson Debbie Henry powerfully articulates what is at stake in this case:

“We have heard loud and clear from women in BC that legal aid – or the lack thereof – has played a significant role in their lives and the lives of their children. Without access to a publicly funded lawyer, many women in poverty are not able to get the adequate representation they need to resolve their complex cases, involving child custody issues and protection orders, and must navigate the system in fear and at risk, often facing their abusers in court alone.”

Case Documents

 Sample Media Coverage