British Columbia risks losing top Crown attorneys if it scraps existing salary structure, association warns

The association representing crown attorneys in British Columbia says the province risks losing its most experienced prosecutors if it doesn’t agree to keep their old salary structure intact.

The warning from the BC Crown Counsel Association comes after a contract dispute between lawyers and the province passed the two-year mark without resolution.

“Our concern is that if the government abandons this longstanding agreement, we are going to lose senior prosecutors and junior prosecutors may think twice about joining the BC Prosecution Service,” said the president of the bar association, Kevin Marks.

The association and the province have been locked in negotiations since the lawyers’ previous contract expired in March 2019.

The main sticking point: the link.

Under the 2007 agreement, senior BC crown attorneys are to receive 85% of what a provincial court judge earns. The judges earn up to $282,250 per year — so 85% for high-level lawyers would represent a little less than $240,000 per year.

The association said the province wanted to get rid of the tie in the next contract, but the lawyers weren’t.

“They deserve this amount. They’re the most experienced prosecutors. They’re the ones who do the high-profile murders and gang prosecutions,” Marks said, citing the Surrey Six murders as an example.

“We want the exact same deal we negotiated in 2007. We’re not asking for anything different,” he continued. “It worked very well for 12 years.”

The question applies to 15 lawyers

The finance ministry did not make a spokesperson available for an interview on Wednesday, but sent a brief statement by email.

“We appreciate the work of the BC Crown Attorney. We believe it is best not to comment on negotiation issues while negotiations are still ongoing,” it read.

There are currently approximately 475 prosecutors in the province. The link problem only applies to 15 of them, or about 3%.

Still, Marks said the salary was also a draw for junior lawyers. Retention and recruitment could become an issue if the link goes away, he said.

“They will have no difficulty finding other jobs,” he said, adding that senior prosecutors could “easily” bring their experience to bear in private practice, defense work or civil litigation.

A shortage of prosecutors could also lead to even more court delays or see inexperienced prosecutors clash with seasoned defense attorneys.

“The person who’s been charged with a crime is going to get the best defense attorney money can buy. And we’re saying the citizens of British Columbia deserve exactly the same,” Marks said.

William M. Mayer