CBA rolls out strategy to improve access to justice

The Canadian Bar Association’s Access to Justice committee has set some aggressive targets for the next decade and beyond to ensure those who need it have better access to justice.

Over the next three years, 45 per cent of Canadians will encounter a legal problem and many will not get the help they need because of “perceived or actual barriers,” according to the CBA.

That means there should be more education for all Canadians about legal issues, greater investment in legal aid from the federal government, and more commitment from lawyers to provide legal aid in the future.

In its 172-page “Reaching Equal Justice Report: An invitation to Envision and Act” issued today [summary here], the CBA outlines 31 targets with milestones and immediate action to be taken. John Sims, the Access to Justice committee’s chairman, acknowledges it’s an “ambitious plan” but needs to be done.

“It’s an agenda that needs to be tackled and if we all become conscious of what’s out there and imagine what the end stake looks like, we can work steadily towards it,” he says. “It’s up to us and others in the system to work together to help generate a plan that people can relate to and imagine engaging in. The report is an invitation to engage and get involved.”

While the report calls on the federal government to increase funding for legal aid, Sims says it’s not just about money — there is also a “leadership role governments need to play.”

“But we’re not ganging up on the government or making it look as though we think they are the only people who can solve it,” he says. “We all have a job to do and we should all be at the table.”

In many cases, Sims says barriers to justice don’t always involve being able to find money for a legal problem — it’s finding the right legal resources and sometimes that can be a geographic or subject matter question. In bigger centres lawyers have gravitated to more commercial work as opposed to “people-centred” law for individuals with legal issues.

The report’s three key strategies include:

  • Teaching law as a life skill in public education, for people in transitional phases, in workplaces, and through other avenues. Also, integration of technology solutions to increase efficiency and accessibility of current processes.
  • Reform and re-centre courts as the central service responsible for adjudicating people’s programs. For example, cultivate dispute resolution and effective triage and referral, making it easier for people to navigate the system.
  • Reinvent delivery of legal services through:
    • More “people-centred” law practices working with integrated teams of service providers (legal, paralegal, and social) to facilitate affordable and holistic delivery of services.
    • Have more middle-income Canadians (75 per cent by 2030) covered by legal expense insurance.
    • Get federal commitment to increase funding for legal aid services.
    • All lawyers provide pro bono services at some point in their careers.
To help achieve those strategies there will be a need for:

  • Building strong public engagement and participation to get people to care about equal justice.
  • Appointment of access to justice commissioners.
  • Building capacity for justice innovation involves four main targets:
    • Improved collection and transparency of access to justice metrics
    • Development of a national research strategy to advance access to justice research and scholarship.
    • Increased federal government engagement in ensuring an equal and inclusive justice system, including increased funding for legal aid.
    • Deeper commitments by the CBA to taking a leadership role in access to justice reform.

Some of the 31 targets to be reached by 2020 include:

  • National benchmarks for legal aid coverage, eligibility and quality of legal services will be in place with a commitment and plan for their progressive realization across Canada. Recommendation that federal, provincial, and territorial governments establish a national working group with representation from all stakeholders including recipients of legal aid, to develop national benchmarks.
  • All Canadians living at and below the poverty line are eligible for full coverage of essential public legal services.
  • All lawyers volunteer legal services at some point in their career. To help make it happen all law societies and legal employers remove barriers to participation in pro bono programs
  • All law schools in Canada have at least one student legal clinic that provides representation to low income persons.

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